Yelp employee fired after writing open letter about how poorly it pays employees

On Friday afternoon, Yelp employee Talia Jane posted a blog entry to Medium about how the low salaries paid by the company made it almost impossible for many workers to afford the San Francisco Bay Area’s high cost of living. Hours after that post went viral, Jane was fired.

In the post, the 25-year old writes that she worked as a customer service agent at Yelp doing phone support. However, the salary provided by the company made it so she was paying 80 percent of her income on rent, leaving her without enough money to buy groceries, pay her phone bill, afford transportation to and from the office, or run the heater at her home.

“I’ve since stopped using my heater,” she wrote. “Have you ever slept fully clothed under several blankets just so you don’t get a cold and have to miss work? Have you ever drank a liter of water before going to bed so you could fall asleep without waking up a few hours later with stomach pains because the last time you ate was at work? I woke up today with stomach pains. I made myself a bowl of rice.”

In a message, she told the Daily Dot that she spoke out because “it suddenly occurred to me that this norm I had been living wasn’t normal.”

Jane, who wrote in her blog post that she earned $733.24 bi-weekly, asserted that her situation was hardly unique. “Every single one of my co-workers is struggling,” she wrote. “They’re taking side jobs, they’re living at home. One of them started a GoFundMe because she couldn’t pay her rent. She ended up leaving the company and moving east, somewhere the minimum wage could double as a living wage. Another wrote on those neat whiteboards we’ve got on every floor begging for help because he was bound to be homeless in two weeks. Fortunately, someone helped him out. At least, I think they did. I actually haven’t seen him in the past few months. Do you think he’s okay? Another guy who got hired, and ultimately let go, was undoubtedly homeless.”

Jane noted that two hours after she made the blog post, an HR representative informed her that she had been terminated from her position and was barred from entering the building where she used to work.

Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman made a series of tweets asserting that Jane’s blog post had nothing to do with her termination and that the company was actively working to deal with the issues of the gap between what it pays its call center employees and what it costs to live in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Jane called the assertion that her termination has nothing to do with her blog post “outright untrue” because she was “told over the phone that the letter violated their terms of conduct and thus was the cause for termination.”

“The response [to my post] has been unbelievable, on every side,” she added. “There’s people sending me messages of support or telling me I’m brave, and the other side telling me I’m stupid, which is essentially synonymous with bravery. [There have been] people offering non-professional legal advice… a whole spectrum of responses that I never could have anticipated. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they were or are in my shoes and giving me words of encouragement. overall it seems like a lot of people are just really surprised.”

A Yelp spokesperson said that, while the company doesn’t directly comment on personal issues related to individual employees, many concerns expressed in Jane’s letter were valid. “We agree with her comments about the high costs of living in San Francisco, which is why we announced in December that we are expanding our Eat24 customer support team into our Phoenix office, where [we] will pay the same wage,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

San Francisco is easily one of the most expensive cities on the planet. The city’s total cost of living is 62 percent higher than the U.S. average. The biggest driver of that cost is housing, which is three times as expensive as the U.S. average. Over 60 percent of homes in the city are valued at over $1 million.

The expense of San Francisco has spilled out into neighboring cities, making the whole region an extremely difficult place to find affordable housing. Jane said that she lives outside the city, “as far away as I could find that was still commutable and less then my income.”

A 2015 report from the real estate site Zillow found that someone making California’s minimum wage wouldn’t able to afford the median rent in any part of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Photo via Nan Palmero/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Aaron Sankin

Aaron Sankin

Aaron Sankin is a former Senior Staff Writer at the Daily Dot who covered the intersection of politics, technology, online privacy, Twitter bots, and the role of dank memes in popular culture. He lives in Seattle, Washington. He joined the Center for Investigative Reporting in 2016.