Netflix and Fire: Netflix fires one of its top executives

You may remember our article on How Not to Fire High Profile Employees. Well someone at Netflix must have been reading our blog, because they recently let go of their Chief Communications Officer, but did so in a tactful way (or about as tactful as any firing can be).

On June 22, Netflix fired Jonathan Friedland, their Chief Communications Officer, after it came to light that he had used the N-word on at least two occasions. After deciding to let go of such an important figure within the company, Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings sent a statement via a companywide email. The email, which The Hollywood Reporter published, explained why the decision was made, briefly described the incidents surrounding the decision, stated a condemnation of Friedland’s use of the N-word, and included how Friedland plans to learn and move forward from the incident.

Friedland, too, spoke out on Twitter about his firing. Rather than blame his behavior on prescription sleeping medication, he took responsibility for his actions, saying, “Leaders have to be beyond reproach in the example we set and unfortunately I fell short of that standard when I was insensitive in speaking to my team about words that offend in comedy.”

Hastings laid out pretty clearly in his memo the motivation behind firing Friedland. Month ago, Friedland used the N-word in a meeting regarding the use of sensitive words in comedy. Many told him after the meeting that his using that word made them uncomfortable and he apologized. Hastings found out last week, however, that Friedland again used the word shortly after that first meeting when he was meeting with African-American members of Netflix’s HR team to go over the initial incident. “The second incident confirmed a deep lack of understanding, and convinced me to let Jonathan go now,” Hastings’ memo said.

Hastings goes on to admit that he, too, is partially to blame. “I should have done more to use it as a learning moment for everyone at Netflix about how painful and ugly that word is, and that it should not be used.” Admitting mistakes is difficult, but doing it early can be an important step in moving past a difficult incident, whether in the workplace or in your own life.

Hastings further said, “Going forward, we are going to find ways to educate and help our employees broadly understand the many difficult ways that race, nationality, gender identity and privilege play out in society and our organization.” By including a “call to arms” of sorts, in combination with admitting guilt, Hastings took a difficult situation and turned it into a learning experience. By expressing to all of his employees that he condemned Friedland’s actions and being clear about the reasons for his termination, Hastings did the best that he could when he fired a high-profile employee.

Of course every situation is different, so if you are thinking of firing a high-profile employee consider your options carefully. And seek counsel if you have any questions.