Viral TikTok Firing of Brittany Pietsch. An HR Perspective.

Brittany Pietsch firing

The recent viral TikTok video of Brittany Pietsch, a former account executive at Cloudfare terminated on Zoom by 2 HR professionals has sparked outcry about HR practices.  

While the laws are different in the US, I'm not so sure that the way this termination was handled was necessarily wrong.  It's never that simple.  

Here's a breakdown from an HR perspective: 

1. Transparency

During the meeting, Pietsch repeatedly asked for a clear reason for her dismissal. The HR representatives were unable to provide one which leads to confusion and frustration for the employee.

An employee should never be surprised by a performance-related termination and the time for feedback is prior to the termination meeting. A termination meeting is not the time nor place to begin or continue a performance discussion.  It often loops into a never-ending they said/they said and there can be no positive outcome when the decision has already been made.

The time for the discussion is with the manager, prior to the termination meeting and we, the viewers of the TikTok video, have no insight into what was discussed prior to Pietsch's meeting.  If the true reason for the termination was performance-related, the outcry should perhaps be against Pietsch's manager, and not the 2 HR individuals. 

Unfortunately, HR is often counseled by legal advisors to be extra cautious with the words they use and to say as little as possible during termination meetings.  Employee lawsuits and court judgments are behind this cautious approach and it's typically not HR's natural state nor preferred method of operating. 

2. Absent Manager

Pietsch questioned why her manager was not present during the call.

While the absence of a direct supervisor during such a critical conversation can feel impersonal and disheartening, the flip side is that a termination meeting is also a legal matter.  Many managers are simply not trained or capable of handling the employee's emotional state and can say things that can hurt the employer in the end.

Managers often are unable to re-focus the conversation and stay on track and the termination meeting can end up looking like a Dr. Phil episode. I have seen many managers crumble during terminations or freeze up, and often become more emotional than the terminated employee.  Of course, the ideal scenario is HR accompanying the manager in conducting the termination, but this scenario is not always possible and I don't believe that 'HR-only in the room', is necessarily wrong. 

3. Fit

A common reason for an employee firing during the first 3 months of employment is lack of fit with the company's culture or not gelling with team mates. This can be difficult, if not impossible to explain or justify during a termination meeting. Sometimes the employee is not necessarily bad at their job, but is not the right hire, not a fit. It's a 'great person - wrong company' scenario. This can result in crickets response from HR because explaining fit is an impossible feat and can feel like a personal attack.  "Not meeting expectations" can also mean not fitting in.  

4. The Whole Story

The thing with these viral videos is that you only ever see one side. A snapshot to support someone's position. The employer did not videotape the employee's 3-month period of employment and we have no idea what happened behind the scenes. There may also be legal implications that HR cannot discuss in the termination meeting.

5. Good luck with future employment.

Pietsch's choice to go viral with this post may be shortsighted.  The post has garnered her notoriety, support and kudos. But I have to wonder how many employers will be chomping at the bit to hire her.  I know I would have a difficult time trusting and hiring someone who airs one-sided dirty laundry without consent and approaches a difficult work conversation like the production of a reality show. 

Bottom Line

A termination is never going to be a pleasant experience.  It's going to be emotional.  And it's not going to be perfect because you're dealing with imperfect humans on both ends.  We often hear terminated employees talk about how "it was not done properly" or "it was handled insensitively", when often there is no way to avoid the surprise, discomfort, and inevitable human reaction that will come from the conversation, no matter how humane the treatment is. 

Bottom line, what HR owes the employee is respect, expression of sincere regret and empathy, as much sensitivity and honesty as the specific situation allows, and in Canada, reasonable notice. 

Ariane Laird Vancouver

Ariane Laird is CEO & Founder of ConnectsUs HR, a company that provides tools & resources to quickly set up a Human Resources department.  
You can contact her directly from the Inquiry Type drop down menu.