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Best Practices for Firing an Employee for Poor Performance

Fired female employee holding box of belongings in an office

In early January, tech employee Brittany Pietsch, who worked at Cloudflare, posted a nine-minute TikTok video of herself getting fired. During the firing, she seems surprised, asking the Cloudfare representatives—none of whom were her manager—why she was being let go. To Pietsch, it came out of nowhere. She said she had worked hard and hadn’t heard any negative feedback prior to this. The representatives responded that she wasn’t meeting 2023 performance expectations, but she said this was the first she was hearing about it, having received only positive feedback from her manager.

The video went viral, with many viewers expressing their sympathy for Pietsch. The chief executive of Cloudflare, Matthew Prince, spoke up: “No employee should ever actually be surprised they weren’t performing,” he said. “We don’t always get it right.”

There are practices employers should—and should not—follow when firing an employee for poor performance. Primary among best practices is to be honest with employees about how their performance is being evaluated.

[SHRM Member-Only Tools and Samples: What You Need to Know About Termination of Employment]

“Overwhelmingly, I’ve seen that these [social media] posts [of workers being fired] are in response to a feeling of surprise,” said Parker Gilbert, CEO and co-founder at, a company in San Francisco with 20 employees. “Without an understanding of why they were fired or any inclination that it was on the table for consideration, employees feel blindsided and that it was unfair.”

Here are best practices for managers and HR to follow when considering firing an employee for poor performance.

Document the Poor Performance

It’s crucial to formally document poor performance when it occurs. At, the team manages feedback in their HR system, Rippling, and they enter feedback at least every six months. If there are performance concerns, managers input feedback more often. When managers schedule one-on-one meetings with employees whose performance isn’t up to par, Gilbert suggests that managers put performance on the meeting agenda, “so it’s documented when and how you brought up the topic,” he said.

Dan Dillon, founder at, a Philadelphia-based company with more than 100 employees, also makes sure his team keeps records of poor performance and sets clear key performance indicators.

He said documenting performance and communicating about it is part of ensuring “fairness and providing chances for improvement while preparing for any eventualities.”

Hold Regular, Frequent Performance Discussions

Some companies make the mistake of only having annual performance reviews. If they want to make employees aware of performance issues and foster dialogue and transparency, they’ll need to communicate more often than that.

“Saving up feedback for the annual review will not provide ongoing dialogue about performance,” said Diane Rosen, a workplace expert and a principal at Compass Consultants. “Conversations should be held throughout the year which inform the employee what the issues are, together with co-creating action plans to help the employee move in a positive direction.”

Give Specific Examples

When going over a performance review, managers and HR need to make sure that they provide clear examples of the work that wasn’t up to par, as well as what “good” would look like, according to Gilbert.

Following this practice, managers and HR leaders who decide to fire an employee are “able to clearly frame the decision in context of performance,” he said, “and the individual has been given opportunities to grow and increase their quality of work.”

Ask Your Attorney for Guidance

Before firing an employee, it’s crucial to consult with counsel, whether or not they’re in house. This is especially important if the employee has been getting good reviews, advancing and has been compensated commensurate with better-performing workers, since they won’t be anticipating termination, according to Rosen. Those employees may be more likely to sue for wrongful termination.

“Because we live in a highly litigious society, employers may have to provide warnings, etcetera, all of which would be documented, before terminating,” she said. “Involving counsel is especially important if the employee has a contract that outlines what does/does not constitute ‘cause’ and therefore, getting it wrong could come with a hefty price tag. It is also important to follow internal policy, which must be enforced consistently.”

Figure Out a Path Forward

In many cases, managers and HR might not have to resort to firing. Instead, they can give underperforming employees guidelines for how to improve. A performance improvement plan (PIP) can be a step-by-step guide to show employees the specific criteria they must meet to stay on the job. Communication and feedback are critical to this process.

“The goal of a performance improvement program, in our view, is that we want to invest in that employee and see if we can get them to meet the expectations of the role they signed on and were hired for,” said Erika Sinner, CEO and founder of Directorie, a virtual company with 22 employees. “In our own culture, we believe in daily or on-the-spot feedback because it helps us do better, show up better, and truly deliver for clients and each other.”

Terminating an Employee

If feedback and a PIP don’t work—and performance and feedback have been well documented—then it may be time to terminate employment. Employers should be transparent about the termination, practice empathy and answer the employee’s questions so there is no confusion. Doing so could lessen the risk of the employee taking legal action—as well as secretly recording the firing and posting it to social media.

“The trend of recording terminations for social media is concerning,” Dillon said. “We haven’t experienced it, but we maintain a respectful termination process, which we believe helps mitigate the risk. Transparency, dignity and support during the termination process are key.”

Dillon offers resources like career coaching to support transitioning employees and tries to ensure that the termination procedure is both professional and compassionate. 

“It’s essential to balance firmness with empathy,” he said. “Ensuring the process is as positive as possible can alleviate the stress for both parties.”

Kylie Ora Lobell is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.


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