Greenkeeper wins £14,000 payout from top golf club after 'bullying'

Greenkeeper, 53, at top golf club in Scotland wins £14,000 payout after he was forced from his job amid culture of ‘bullying and harassment’

  • John Kelly, 53, spent 12 years at Prestonfield Golf Club in Edinburgh until 2020 
  • He says captain Ian Cowan forced workers to take furlough at a half hour’s notice
  • Mr Kelly says he was sworn at and his locker was ransacked, with no action taken
  • He added Cowan threatened him, ‘do what I f***ing tell you’ or lose out on pay

A greenkeeper at a top golf club has won nearly £14,000 after an employment tribunal found he was forced out of his job amid a culture of ‘bullying and harassment’.

John Kelly, 53, worked at Prestonfield Golf Club in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh, for 12 years until he left in September 2020.

The club charges senior members up to £815 a year in green fees.

In March 2020 at the start of the pandemic, club captain Ian Cowan called a meeting ‘threatening’ the three greenkeepers to take furlough or the club would go into administration. 

The three groundsmen of Prestonfield Golf Club in Edinburgh say they were ordered to take furlough and given just 30 minutes to leave 

Prestonfield Golf Club is one of the top clubs in the country and members are charged up to £815 a year in fees

The men were then given 30 minutes to leave and volunteers brought in to do their jobs – which was branded ‘completely inappropriate and insensitive’ in a judgment. 

Mr Kelly was furloughed until June 2020 and when he raised health and safety concerns volunteers had breached social distancing rules, his concerns were ignored.

When he came off furlough, he was told he would be managed by Mr Cowan, who told him: ‘Do what you are f***ing told’.

Mr Kelly later discovered that two lockers he stored camping equipment in had been broken into and his property scattered on the ground.

He asked Mr Cowan to investigate the incident, but was told he had stored the items at his own risk and that no investigation was required.

Regarding this grievance, the tribunal stated: ‘No reasonable employer would have disregarded the claimant’s complaints about his lockers being broken into and property thrown all over the place in such a dismissive and disrespectful manner.’

The tribunal also heard Mr Cowan was angered by Mr Kelly’s refusal to use a method to clean grass-cutting machines which would have been in breach of strict pollution laws and lead to run-off reaching nearby Duddingston Loch.

Mr Cowan threatened Mr Kelly that if he did not comply he would be sent home without pay, if he didn’t ‘do what I f***ing tell you.’

On June 11, Mr Kelly was signed off work with stress.

A collective grievance letter written by all three groundsmen in May said: ‘We believe that the club has developed a culture of bullying, harassment, and intimidation at the club. This has left us feeling threatened, frightened and in fear for our jobs.’ 

Mr Kelly told the tribunal in Edinburgh he had no option but to resign from his post in September last year when he learnt that he would continue to be managed by him.

The judgment said: ‘He could not work with Mr Cowan due to the way Mr Cowan had treated him. Mr Kelly considered that Mr Cowan had bullied, harassed, threatened and humiliated him.’

The luxury golf club enjoys tremendous views of Edinburgh landmark Arthur’s Seat at the rear of its course

All three greensmen left their jobs, and the judgment backed up their claims Mr Cowan had ‘an agenda’ to replace them. It said: ‘In reality that appeared to be what had transpired.’

A judgment, published this week, cited Mr Cowan’s ‘unreasonable behaviour’ as key to the club being ordered to pay £13,817 in compensation to Mr Kelly for constructive and unfair dismissal, including £7,000 for injury to Mr Kelly’s feelings caused by his whistleblowing.

In its judgment, the tribunal found Mr Cowan had not been a ‘credible or reliable’ witness.

Summing up, the tribunal judgement stated: ‘No reasonable employer would have treated a long-serving employee with such contempt and utter disregard.’

Following the tribunal ruling, GMB Scotland legal firm Unionline Scotland said: ‘The judgment reflects that employers can’t be allowed to bully their staff and treat them unfairly.’

Robert Deavy, GMB Scotland organiser, said: ‘We’re delighted with this outcome. We never shirk from challenging bad employers.’

When contacted by Mail Online, a spokesman from Prestonfield Golf Club said: ‘As this is an ongoing issue the club cannot make any comment at this time.’

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