Greenkeeper wins £ 14,000 payout from one of the UK’s top golf clubs in the midst of ‘bullying’ culture

by | Oct 26, 2021 | Golf Clubs

A greenkeeper at a top golf club has won nearly £ 14,000 after a labor court ruled that 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 seniors up to £ 815 per year in green fees.

In March 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, club captain Ian Cowan called a meeting in which the three greenkeepers were “threatened” with taking vacation or the club would go into administration.

The three grounds attendants at Prestonfield Golf Club in Edinburgh say they were ordered to take a vacation and were only given 30 minutes to leave

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

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

The men were then given 30 minutes to leave and volunteers were called in to do their jobs – which one judgment denounced as “totally inappropriate and insensitive”.

Mr Kelly was on leave until June 2020 and when he raised health and safety concerns about volunteers violating social distancing rules, his concerns were ignored.

When he got home from vacation, he was told that he was being administered by Mr. Cowan, who told him, “Do what the fuck you are told”.

Mr Kelly later discovered that two lockers he used to store his camping gear had been broken into and his belongings scattered on the floor.

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

In response to the complaint, the court stated: “No sane employer would have ignored the plaintiff’s complaints about breaking into his lockers and the scattering of his property in such a disrespectful and disrespectful way.”

The Tribunal also heard that Mr. Cowan was upset by Mr. Kelly’s refusal to use a grass-cutting machine cleaning method that would have violated strict environmental laws and resulted in the drain going into nearby Duddingston Hole.

Mr. Cowan threatened Mr. Kelly that if he didn’t do it, he would be sent home for free if he didn’t “do what I damn well tell you”.

On June 11th, Mr. Kelly was stressed goodbye from work.

A collective letter of complaint written by all three groundskeepers in May stated: “We believe the club has developed a culture of bullying, harassment and intimidation in the club. This makes us feel threatened, scared and in fear of our job. ”

Mr Kelly told the Edinburgh Tribunal that he had no choice but to step down from his post last September when he learned that he was still administering it.

The verdict stated: “He was unable to work with Mr. Cowan because of the way Mr. Cowan treated him. Mr Kelly said Mr Cowan bullied, molested, threatened and humiliated him. ‘

The luxurious golf club offers a wonderful view of Edinburgh's landmark, Arthur's Seat, at the back of the golf course

The luxurious golf club offers a wonderful view of Edinburgh’s landmark, Arthur’s Seat, at the back of the golf course

All three Greens have left their jobs and the verdict has confirmed their claims that Mr Cowan had “an agenda” to replace them. It said: ‘In reality, it seemed that way.’

In a verdict released this week, Mr. Cowan’s “unreasonable conduct” was cited as key to convicting the club of paying £ 13,817 in compensation to Mr Kelly for a constructive and unfair dismissal, including £ 7,000 for harming Mr Kelly’s feelings through his whistleblowing.

In its judgment, the court found that Mr. Cowan was not a “credible or reliable” witness.

In summary, the court ruling said: “No sensible employer would have treated a long-term employee with such contempt and complete disregard.”

Following the ruling, GMB Scotland’s Unionline Scotland law firm said: “The ruling reflects that employers must not be allowed to harass their employees or treat them unfairly.”

Robert Deavy, GMB Scotland organizer, said: “We are very pleased with this result. We never shy away from challenging bad employers. “

When asked by Mail Online, a Prestonfield Golf Club spokesman said, “As this is an ongoing issue, the club is unable to comment at this time.”