The etiquette of terminations: Sales exec confronts HR professionals in viral TikTok video

'No employee should ever actually be surprised they weren't performing': Cloudflare CEO on viral TikTok termination

The etiquette of terminations: Sales exec confronts HR professionals in viral TikTok video

A corporate employee of the cloud-security company Cloudflare posted a TikTok video of herself being terminated last week, garnering millions of views on X and sparking debate around what is appropriate termination etiquette.

The self-recorded video shows sales account executive Brittany Pietsch confronting two unseen HR professionals conducting the meeting, whome Pietsch said she had never met. In onscreen text, Pietsch writes that her colleagues had been getting “random” 15-minute call invites that day, and “My work bff got a meeting 30 mins before I did and she got laid off”.

Pietsch had worked for Cloudflare for three-and-a-half months as an account executive when she was laid off. In the video, Pietsch was told she was being let go due to having “not met Cloudflare expectations for performance”, which Pietsch took issue with, cutting the executive off mid-sentence and demanding specific answers.

Ioana Pantis, employment lawyer at McMillan in Toronto, spoke with HRD about how this situation could have been prevented.

A main takeaway from the video, she said, is that terminations in Canada should be kept as general as possible, avoiding specific reasons.

 “The best way to have avoided this would be to not get into the reasons, and just make a general statement about, ‘a business decision has been made to part ways,’” Pantis said.

“When an employer does go without cause and decides to give a reason even though they don't have to, there is some risk that the employee could claim the termination decision was made in bad faith or there's some form of dishonesty.”

Viral TikTok termination video shows sales exec confronting HR professionals

In the video, Pietsch explains her position as being a new sales employee who completed a three month sales ramp prior to the Christmas holidays, and that she had been receiving positive feedback from her manager.

“I know you guys must not be able to understand that, given the position that you are in, and it must be very easy for you to just have this little 10-minute, 15-minute meeting, tell someone that they're fired, completely wreck their whole life and then that's it, with no explanation,” Pietsch said in the video. “That's extremely traumatizing for people, if you can imagine that… it’s just very, very shocking, very, very shocking. I have, like, really given my whole energy and life over the last four months to this job. And to be let go for no reason is like a huge slap in the face from a company that I really wanted to believe in.”

In the recording, the HR professionals continued to inform Pietsch of the data-based reason for the action, while denying her requests for more information.

“I absolutely understand how you feel that way, why you feel that way, and I'll be honest with you, there's nothing that we're going to say in this call and the time that we have that's going to undo the way that you feel right in this moment,” said one of the professionals.

 “But I personally will do everything that I can to give you as much specific information as I can after this call. I can't make any promises. I understand where you're coming from. I can tell you that Dom and I do care I understand the feeling that you have right now. And I can't change that.”

Cloudflare CEO responds to viral TikTok termination video

The conversation was described as being “painful for me to watch” by Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince. He commented publicly on X, stating that while the termination could have been “more kind and humane”, he stood behind the decision to terminate the woman.

“We fired ~40 salespeople out of over 1,500 in our go to market org. That’s a normal quarter,” his X post read.

“When we’re doing performance management right, we can often tell within 3 months or less of a sales hire, even during the holidays, whether they’re going to be successful or not. Sadly, we don’t hire perfectly. We try to fire perfectly. In this case, clearly we were far from perfect. The video is painful for me to watch. Managers should always be involved. HR should be involved, but it shouldn’t be outsourced to them. No employee should ever actually be surprised they weren’t performing. We don’t always get it right. And sometimes under performing employees don’t actually listen to the feedback they’ve gotten before we let them go.”

Termination etiquette to prevent reputational harm

While in Canada there would generally be no legal recourse for an employee in this situation, Pantis said, such a circumstance could cause significant reputational harm to the employer.

“Termination is an understandably very sensitive and emotionally charged time for employees, because a job is so closely tied to our livelihoods and our sense of identity and self worth. Employers really do have an onus to treat employees sensitively, especially at termination,” Pantis said.

“Usually what I tell clients is that it's best practice to not give a reason for termination, and make a general statement about the business deciding to part ways, but here's the termination package being offered to the employee. This helps to avoid hurt feelings or getting into an argument about the merits of the termination decision.”

In Pietsch’s video, she challenged the reasoning for the termination, repeatedly asking, “Can you explain for me why Brittany Pietsch is getting let go?”

“I won't be able to go into specifics for numbers,” the HR executive responded.

“Wait, why though?” Pietsch said. “I just started; I've been working extremely hard. Just because I haven't closed anything, that has nothing to do with my performance on a three-month ramp with just one month, with two major holidays in the middle. I don't think that has anything to do with why I should be let go, if that makes sense. So, I really need an answer and an explanation as to why Brittany Pietsch is getting let go, not why Cloudflare decided to hire too many people and are now actually realizing that they can't afford this many people and they're letting that go. If that's the real answer, I would rather just you tell me that, instead of making up some bullsh*t and telling me that right before I lose my job from someone that I've never met before, if you can respect that.”

Pietsch’s response is being debated online by those who admire her assertiveness and others who think she’s harmed her future prospects.

TikTok termination video a sign of larger trend

It has been reported that older managers are experiencing challenges managing the expectations of younger Gen Z employees who are demanding more from their employers. Work-life balance and company purpose have transitioned from luxuries to must-haves, as Gen Z employees have shown that they are not afraid to go public with their grievances.

There are legal steps that can be taken if an employee posts damning videos online, Pantis said, but once reputational damage has occurred, it can’t necessarily be reversed.

“Ultimately, it comes down to doing the work on the back end before the termination meeting ever happens, to prevent this kind of escalation from ever happening,” she said.

“Conduct a termination meeting as if a judge is watching. Think about that authority figure and objective person, how would they view this from up top looking down and judging how we're treating the employee? We always want to treat employees sensitively, with decency. Make sure that we're providing, or potentially exceeding their termination entitlements, having done the background work to understand what are the employee's termination entitlements, and then conveying those in the termination meeting.”

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