It’s not exactly a secret that reality TV has a reasonably nasty habit of absolutely wrecking various people that appear on the shows, particularly those who unwittingly get cast in the villain role by producers. But a landmark legal ruling will not only force Channel Seven to cough up workers compensation to one of its former House Rules contestants, but it also has massive ramifications for the future of reality TV production in Australia as a whole.

Nicole Prince appeared alongside friend Fiona Taylor on the fifth season of House Rules which aired in 2017, and were cast as the villains of the series by the show’s production team.

In a bombshell ruling by the NSW Workers Compensation Commission handed down yesterday, the board not only ruled that Prince and Taylor were technically employees of Channel Seven during filming, even despite wording in contestant contracts that stated otherwise, but that that meant Channel Seven must pay a workers compensation claim out toe Prince, who claims to have suffered a psychological injury as a result of being unwittingly cast as a villain on a major network TV show.

In a 27-page finding, the Arbitrator upheld Price’s claims that the House Rules set constituted a “hostile and adversarial environment.” Crucially, it also ruled that Price was a “worker employed by the respondent” as far as the definitions of the Workers Compensation Act were concerned. The ruling rejected Channel Seven’s defence that the contestants were never employed by the network, and that a clause in the contract stating contestants agreed that “participation in the program is not employment, does not create an employer/employee relationship between Seven and you” and were therefore not entitled to benefits or compensation was not correct.

Prince and Taylor were paid $500 per week each, with an additional $500 allowance, during filming of the show which took place in late 2016.

In the claim, Prince asserted that she “felt her harassed and bullied during the filming,” and that that was not only “condoned by the producer,” but “aggravated [and] even encouraged by them.”

Prince’s claims detail allegations of a physical assault suffered by Taylor while on set. After they complained, Prince claims that Seven threatened to skew their edit deliberately to portray them as bullies.

Later in filming, Prince detailed how producers only showed other contestants a handful of negative comments Prince and Taylor made about their renovations, leading to tension during group shooting.

After the show aired, Prince’s claims assert that she was subjected to oceans of negative and threatening comments on social media, which Seven officials did not adequately monitor. She also claims that as a result of the show, she has “not been able to obtain work,” and was told repeatedly “this was due to how I was portrayed as a bully.” Prince also detailed how she feels “devastated and worthless about the loss of my career and working life.”

It’s unclear what compensation will be paid to Prince by Seven, as a definitive amount was still to be determined.

The ruling has sparked fears that all reality TV contestants will be seen as employees of networks in the eyes of the law, meaning they’ll not only be eligible for workers comp payouts, but networks will also be liable to pay regular entitlements like superannuation and payroll tax, and will affect the – frankly, insanely low – pay rates currently offered to contestants.

It’s big gear, this. Massive potential ramifications for the entire industry.