At least five employees were fired by private rocket company SpaceX after drafting and circulating an open letter criticising founder Elon Musk.

In the letter, the axed employees called on executives to change the company’s work culture to make it more inclusive, according to two people familiar with the matter.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The New York Times reported earlier on Thursday that SpaceX had fired employees associated with the letter, citing three employees with knowledge of the situation. It had not detailed the number of employees who had been dismissed.

SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell sent an e-mail saying the company had investigated and “terminated a number of employees involved” with the letter, the New York Times said.

The newspaper said Shotwell’s e-mail said employees involved with circulating the letter had been fired for making other staff feel “uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied, and/or angry because the letter pressured them to sign onto something that did not reflect their views”.

The earlier open letter to SpaceX executives had called Musk a “distraction and embarrassment” to the company he founded.

In a list of three demands, the letter said: “SpaceX must swiftly and explicitly separate itself from Elon’s personal brand.” It added: “Hold all leadership equally accountable to making SpaceX a great place to work for everyone [and] define and uniformly respond to all forms of unacceptable behaviour.”