Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vivamus convallis sem tellus, vitae egestas felis vestibule ut.

Error message details.

Reuse Permissions

Request permission to republish or redistribute SHRM content and materials.

Viral Video Draws Attention to Layoff Process via Zoom

With proper preparation, direct and confident communication, and thoughtfulness, HR teams can avoid fumbling their delivery.

Remote layoff

Employees, employers and HR departments were aghast at a recent TikTok posted by an employee who recorded her termination via a Zoom call that included two company representatives, neither of whom were her supervisor.

The employee, Brittany Pietsch, an Atlanta-based account executive at Cloudflare, was made aware of the Zoom call that day.

She said via a LinkedIn post that she received a calendar invite from a random director, who was not a part of her organization, about an hour before the meeting started.

[SHRM Express Request: Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act]

Pietsch wrote that she was “very confused” and invited her manager to the Zoom call, but he told her that he wasn’t allowed to join any meetings he wasn’t invited to.

“I was let go by someone who had never heard of my name until that day,” Pietsch wrote.

During the 9-minute recorded call, Pietsch rebuts the HR team, imploring them to explain why she was being let go after seemingly being a high-performing employee in her department based on the KPIs her supervisor gave her when she was hired less than six months earlier.

Recordings such as these are not uncommon, according to industry professionals. But this one struck a nerve in many who endured similar events, according to Pietsch, based on the outreach she received from strangers who watched the video and shared similar stories.

Erin McLaughlin, an attorney with Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney in Pittsburgh, Pa., said that regardless of the forum, the employer representatives should conduct termination meetings as if they are being recorded.

She said the incident is a reminder that HR teams need to enter such layoff events by being prepared, direct, confident and thoughtful. Who is invited to the call, what is said—and what is not said—and the follow-through are each crucial.

Lisa Jerles, co-founder of JG Legal in Miami, Fla., who serves as an outside general counsel to employers, said companies should record the Zoom conversation themselves.

“When you record a Zoom, all parties are provided with notice that the conversation is being recorded so there is no ambiguity,” she said. “In this case, the employee recorded the conversation, but it is good business practice for an employer to record remote firings so that there is documentation of the conversation.”

Who Should Be on the Call?

It is important to include someone the employee knows on the call, if possible, said Phyllis G Hartman, SHRM-SCP, founder and president of PGHR Consulting in Pittsburgh.

“It may be best for HR to deliver the news, but the manager should at least be a witness on the call,” Hartman said. “It is difficult to accept termination, but when it comes from a stranger who doesn’t show a lot of respect or empathy for the employee, it is even tougher.

“They told [Pietsch] that she was being let go because her performance had not met expectations, but those delivering the news never provided detail.”

Pietsch shared a few days after the TikTok was posted through a post on LinkedIn that her manager told her he was just as blindsided as she was.

“On the call, you can hear the HR rep admit that they could not attest to what my manager has said about my performance,” Pietsch wrote. “That essentially confirmed for me they had no idea who I was or why they were letting me go. My manager called me afterward and told me he was sick to his stomach and couldn’t believe this was happening.”

“Of course, [Pietsch] was being defensive, as most people would be,” Hartman said, “but it would have been better for the HR representatives to define the expectations: ‘You were expected to close X number of sales and you didn’t.’ ”

Proper Progressive Employee Discipline

Valerie P. Keels, SHRM-SCP, head of D.C. office services for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, based in Washington, D.C., said organizations should implement progressive discipline when it comes to monitoring performance and dealing with performance issues.

“Brittany was right to call them out for not providing her with the necessary feedback that her performance was not meeting expectations and allowing her to improve—if that was their intention,” Keels said.

Cloudflare should also have a stated probationary period whereby an employee’s job is not confirmed until after they complete a certain number of months—generally three to six—of good performance.

“The probationary clause can state that employment can be terminated within that period with or without cause, and because that was a condition of employment, Cloudflare would be able to terminate employment under the stipulations of that clause,” Keels explained.

Keels said that her company’s probationary period, for example, requires a paid two-week notice.

“However, since we are a compassionate group, we would put the employee on a PIP (performance improvement plan) before firing them,” she said.

“If a company, such as Cloudflare, would like to avoid this type of negative publicity with their employment practices, they could have their employees sign a nondisclosure agreement upon employment,” Keels added.

Heidi Reavis, an attorney with Reavis Page Jump in New York City, said when events such as this video hit the mainstream, the employer will face an ongoing PR issue as the incident may be perceived as reflective of the company’s work culture and lack of respect for employees.

Preparing for the Call

Thorough preparation for such calls by the HR teams will help to ensure the call is conducted in a more professional manner, said Stacey Berk, founder and managing consultant at Expand HR Consulting in North Potomac, Md.

She recommended managing the potentially complex and monthslong employee relations problems leading up to the termination in accordance with the organization’s usual process and policies.

Carefully plan the termination by identifying opportunities for risk mitigation, such as any specific federal, state or local laws, and coordinating with outside counsel.

Berk said it’s best to sketch out the severance package as appropriate within the organization’s usual process by analyzing what’s been offered to others within the employee’s job category, with consideration given to tenure and reason for termination.

Berk said to come to the call with a draft of the severance agreement, termination talking points and a termination letter.

Stick to the Talking Points

Though termination meetings can be difficult, it is important to stick closely to the planned talking points, Berk advised.

“The purpose of the meeting is to convey the decision to terminate the employee,” she said. “The employee may question or attempt to challenge the decision and might show anger or be defensive.”

Berk said rather than engage the employee’s response, return to the discussion. For example, state that the decision has been made and is final, she said.

“There is nothing to be gained from engaging a debate with the employee if it is not going to change the decision,” Jerles said.

Reavis said it is generally recommended for termination meetings to focus on next steps in the process, and not look back at the why-for, unless there is a compelling reason to do so, such as providing the employee with an opportunity to address issues or pivot to another position within the company.

Reavis cautioned against playing “the blame game.”

“Typically, it is not advisable to go into performance issues where there is no opportunity any longer to address the issues,” she said. “Note, however, that an employee may have a contractual right to cure issues, so employers should consult any applicable employment agreement prior to termination.”

She recommended not presenting as if the HR team is there to do the employee any favors. “For example, starting with, ‘You haven’t seemed happy here,’ or, ‘You seem to feel frustrated with your work here,’ are surefire ways to anger the employee and land as gaslighting,” Reavis said.

“Telling someone else how to feel or how they feel, whether they indeed feel that way or not, is often experienced as demeaning and disingenuous, particularly when you’re about to let a boom fall,” she added.

Companies generally should not convey what they are doing concerning other employees, unless the layoff is indeed impacting a group or percentage of the company, Reavis said, in which case it may be useful to explain to the employee that the layoff is structural.

Coordinating Next Steps

The severance agreement, Berk said, is in exchange for an employee’s release of their claims against the employer, which ideally helps reduce employees talking negatively about the organization and improves workplace culture for those who stay because they see how exiting employees are treated.

Next, coordinate and review the documents with outside counsel.

Be sure to coordinate the administrative termination of all employee services and provide COBRA forms as appropriate, and manage outplacement if offered.

“The employee may offer to resign,” Berk said. “If so, accept the resignation, effective immediately, and ask for a resignation letter.”

For delivering the severance agreement, Berk recommended paying attention to the following details:

  • Paycheck. The final paycheck may include payment for all unpaid salary and accrued-but-unused annual leave as of the termination date.
  • Severance pay. In connection with the separation, the organization may offer a severance payment equal to a certain number of months’ salary, conditional on the employee accepting and signing a standard separation agreement and general release.
  • Outplacement. The organization may choose to provide a certain number of hours of outplacement services to assist the employee with their job search.
  • COBRA. The organization may agree to pay the employee’s COBRA premium for the first month of medical coverage if they elect such coverage within the allowed election period. 
  • Unemployment. The organization may choose not contest the employee’s claim for unemployment benefits for the period after the severance period. 
  • Agreement and timeframe. Be sure the employee reviews the agreement carefully. If the employee chooses to sign the agreement, they will be waiving their right to raise all claims against the organization under federal, state and local law (except as otherwise specified in the agreement). The organization may set forth a deadline for accepting the terms of the agreement and returning a signed copy.

“The sands of employment law shift quickly,” Reavis said, “and employers are well advised not to presume yesterday’s standards apply today.”

Paul Bergeron is a freelance writer based in Herndon, Va.


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.