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What We Can Learn About the Consequences of Firing an Employee from the Brittany Pietsch TikTok Video

Ever since Brittany Pietsch’s TikTok video about being fired from Cloudflare went viral, we’ve had a lot to discuss over here at Talent To Team. 

  • What are the pros and cons of an employee filming themselves in this situation? 

  • Does this video help or hurt Brittany’s reputation or the company’s reputation? 

  • Why did this video strike such a nerve?


The biggest problem with this video is that employers should always assume they can be recorded at any time.

In today’s workplace, where remote workers can record freely, companies should understand that conversations normally considered confidential may no longer be private.


Firing an Employee, woman looking nervous

It's times like these that an organization needs a trusted HR partner (we call it strategic HR) with experience in HR strategy. This will ensure employees are treated with empathy while complying with necessary processes.




As can be expected from this video, the public is siding with Brittany. With 7,511 comments and counting, many of the comments blamed the employer or HR:  

  • “Sue them, they can’t fire you for no reason,” 

  • “I feel like these two [HR managers] need to be laid off for their performance,” 

  • “HR didn’t even know the reason!” 

These sentiments build on the perception that companies do not care about employees in a time when employees demand empathy from their leaders. 


HR is there to balance the best interest of the company and the employee, and minimize risks for both. It is a very delicate dance.


We asked our team of experienced, fractional HR professionals: What do you think about this video of Brittany being fired? How do you handle laying off or firing staff? And, what are the top lessons we can learn from this video? 


Here’s what our HR professionals had to say:


LESSONS ON FIRING AN EMPLOYEE


There are three sides to this story- we have advice for all sides

  1. The employee being fired (Brittany)

  2. The HR managers

  3. The employer (Cloudflare)


Each one has a part to play in this video. And, each one has a reputation at stake based on how they conducted themselves. 


For employees, Brittany is now an internet star. This video may have hurt her chances of being hired again because future employers may worry about her actions and choices in their company. Future employers don’t want to worry about being on her next video. On the other hand, Brittany made a fair argument questioning why she was being fired, and other employers may recognize her strong conviction and wherewithal to stand up for herself in a difficult situation. That might earn her points with the right employer. It’s a risk an employee has to weigh for themselves.


For companies doing mass layoffs, this action tends to reach national news and if done poorly, can impact a company’s stock and their ability to attract top talent. Who would want to work for a company that treats their employees with disrespect and demonstrates lackluster integrity during layoffs?


For HR managers/ Firing managers, they need to come prepared and have empathy for the person in the situation. Their job is to navigate the emotional aspects and clearly communicate the why and focus on the next steps. Otherwise, things can get icky sticky and feel real bad, real fast.


Lessons For Employers, Employees, and HR Managers


Always Assume You’re Being Recorded

In a time where social media rules our everyday lives, we should assume that confidential employee/employer conversations may be recorded when employees feel under pressure. Employees being terminated will no longer be held to the handbook policies that may impede their ability to record. Because there are no implications in place for employees in states where recording is legally allowed when one party is notified, companies should prepare meetings with their best foot forward at all times


Lessons for HR Managers and Employers


Come Prepared- Have Clear Talking Points

Write all your talking points down for everybody who’s involved in a layoff or involuntary termination. Alexandria Brown, one of our VPs of People, says she doesn’t want people to go off book and run the risk of stumbling through an intense question. Being prepared helps everybody stay on track, get through a very challenging moment, and bring empathy to an already difficult situation.


Use Your Strategic HR Partner

In the video, Brittany highlights how the message being conveyed doesn't match her experience at the company. A strategic HR partner helps companies ensure the right message is being conveyed to the employee in critical moments like these. HR should guide the process, ensuring that every step is delivered professionally and accurately to prevent employee conflict. Use your strategic HR Partner to make crucial HR decisions.


Use Emotional Intelligence

You can’t control other people’s emotions. Alexandria Brown, one of our VPs of People, shares that coaching managers and others attending a sensitive employee meeting can help ensure everyone is on the same page and the message is understood. “I coach managers not to get emotional, cry, or over-apologize because we need to hold the space for the impacted [the person being let go].


Jasmine Smith, a People Ops Manager with Talent To Team, reminds us that the role of HR can be tricky. Yet, if done correctly, provides employees and leaders with a safe space where everyone feels protected to convey what needs to be conveyed. "(We) have to be human," she says.


Follow The Golden Rule

Bonnie Sims, another VP of People, reminds us that it is important to conduct yourself in a manner that you would want others to conduct themselves if they were meeting with you. By conducting herself with honor, integrity, and thoughtfulness, she feels confident in how sensitive conversations will be received.


Take 100% Responsibility for Your Actions

Take ownership to do the best that you can to treat the employee with respect and to be professional in the situation. If you didn’t do something right, take ownership of that too.


Allow People To Have Their Emotions

Lee Cloud, one of our People Ops Managers says, “So often people get off. They are told, ‘Here’s your package. Okay. Bye.’ And this is one of the hardest days people are going to go through and only giving them five minutes doesn’t allow them any space to get out their emotions or process this life changing information.”


Transparency is Critical

Brittany states over and over during her termination that she would feel better if the people terminating her would have been honest with her about the reason she was being terminated. According to data, transparency is a key element employees want in employers in 2024.


Alexandria Brown shares that a company could say something like, “We don’t have enough cash to support our current headcount. This is not personal. We’re trying to correct this as quickly as possible. This is why it’s important to share that we did everything we could to offer you a cushion and outplacement services, references, etc. Our recruiters have already connected with their network…” and so forth. This kind of explanation is clear and transparent.


Lessons for Employees


Brittany did a great job asking for clarity during this hard conversation. 


Employees should ask if this is a layoff or a termination. If it is a layoff, ask if you will be granted unemployment based on your layoff status, if there is severance, and if there are any benefit continuations planned for you. Ask for all information to be emailed to you immediately after your meeting. 


If you are planning to record, make sure you know your state laws and the company's operating state laws and whether or not both parties need to agree to be recorded. If both parties are required to be notified in your states, you may face legal consequences for recording without your company's permission.


And, let yourself feel the feelings. Employees may find themselves shutting down, becoming angry, or feeling a mixture of things. It’s worse to get laid off than to lay someone off, and it’s normal to feel a lot of emotions.


Strategic HR is What ALL Companies Need During Layoffs


The greatest lesson on firing an employee is that at the end of the day, HR is not about transactions and tasks. It’s not about hiring and firing people. Yet, so many companies treat it this way as just another job to be done. 


HR is actually about strategy and using strategic HR is critical for all companies. HR is about how you treat your employees and customers, and build a fabulous company culture where people want to stay and feel they belong. 


Having a VP of People matters in situations like laying off employees because they: 1) have the experience in laying off staff, 2) are prepared on how to communicate, plan, and move someone through the process, and 3) can align what needs to happen with the executive team and senior leaders so that when the time comes to do the difficult act of letting go of talent, it can be done with less harm and trauma to all involved. It’s an emotional thing, and no one likes it, so it’s best not to treat layoffs as an afterthought or another “to do.”


This is when HR gets a bad name and the process goes sideways. It’s because they’re not as prepared and don’t have the strategic insights to fully handle the situation.  Don’t forget that strategic HR is your best partner in these situations.

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