The government's attempts to outlaw religious discrimination in the workplace turned into farce last week when a draft code of practice was published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The code aims to help employers interpret the Equality Bill, but eyebrows were raised in the HR community at the revelation that not only will established religions be covered but also vegans, members of Cults and people with no beliefs at all.
The government tried to distance itself with a statement that opinions based on scientific or political theories were not akin to religious or philosophical beliefs and therefore not covered.
But in practice both employers and tribunals may find it difficult to judge what is an opinion and what is a belief. This was the case in November 2009 when a former manager at residential landlord group Grainger was given the go-ahead to take his employer to a tribunal for allegedly making him redundant because of his views on climate change.
The draft code says atheists will be covered by the Bill. But what if an atheist believes only things that can be scientifically proven? As such opinions are not covered atheists presumably will be protected from discrimination only when their beliefs are based on blind ignorance of the facts.
The serious concern is that extending the law to cover groups such as vegans will damage the hard-won credibility of workplace equality among employers. The Bill will be debated in the House of Lords on 23 March. Let us hope they can inject some common sense before it is too late.