£13k payout to Prestonfield Golf Club greenkeeper treated with 'utter disregard' and bullied out of his job

A greenkeeper at one of Scotland’s most prestigious golf clubs has won an unfair dismissal claim for £13,000 after the club captain ordered: “Do what you are f*****g told.”

By Stephen Wilkie
Monday, 25th October 2021, 4:45 pm

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An employment tribunal heard that John Kelly was shown “utter disregard” when he was forced out of the post he loved after 12 years at Prestonfield Golf Club in Edinburgh.

The club, which charges senior members up to £815-a-year in green fees, defended the action raised by Mr Kelly who told the tribunal he had no option but to resign from his post in September last year.

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Preston GC sits in the shadow of Arthur's Seat

Mr Kelly, 53, said he was the victim of a ‘culture of bullying and harassment’ and had been subjected to a vindictive campaign by the club’s captain Ian Cowan, who told him: “Do what you are f***ing told.”

The atmosphere at the club became so toxic, the tribunal heard, that Mr Kelly and two fellow greenkeepers wrote a grievance last year to the management committee saying they felt “threatened, frightened and in fear for our jobs”.

They complained about Cowan and quit the historic course at the foot of Arthur’s Seat.

A judgment published this week cited his unreasonable behaviour as key to the club being ordered to pay £13,817 in compensation to Mr Kelly for constructive and unfair dismissal.

Prestigious: Members pay up to £815 year to play at Prestonfield

In its judgment, the tribunal – which sat in Edinburgh over eight days – found Cowan had not been a “credible or reliable” witness, and the award included £7000 for injury to Mr Kelly’s feelings caused by his whistleblowing.

The tribunal had previously been told that In March 2020, at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Cowan called a meeting “threatening” the greenkeepers to take furlough or the club would go into administration.

The judgment branded it “completely inappropriate and insensitive” that the men were then given 30 minutes to leave and volunteers brought in to do their jobs.

While on furlough the two other greenkeepers were at the centre of allegations from Cowan which led to negative social media comments from club members – which were lated proven to be unfounded.

Mr Kelly came off furlough in June last year and was informed by club bosses that he would be reporting to Cowan.

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

Cowan was asked to investigate the incident but told Mr Kelly the he had stored the items at his own risk.

The tribunal also heard 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 led to run-off reaching nearby Duddingston Loch.

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.”

Summing up, the tribunal judgement states: “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.”

Prestonfield Golf Club declined to comment.

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