A Yelp employee publicly complained to the CEO that she couldn't afford to buy groceries -- hours later, she was fired

Late Friday afternoon, Yelp customer service agent Talia Jane Ben-Ora published a Medium blog post called “Dear Jeremy” — an open letter to Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman claiming that some of his employees just can’t make ends meet.

“Every single one of my coworkers is struggling. They’re taking side jobs, they’re living at home. One of them started a GoFundMe because she couldn’t pay her rent,” Ben-Ora wrote. “Another guy who got hired, and ultimately let go, was undoubtedly homeless.”

Ben-Ora’s lengthy Medium post paints a grim picture of San Francisco-based Yelp, the Yelp Eat24 food-ordering subsidiary at which she officially worked, and of being a low-paid worker in the extremely expensive San Francisco Bay Area. 

About two hours after posting her essay, Ben-Ora took to her Twitter account to announce that she had been fired from Yelp. She says there was no warning, just a disconnected email account and, later, a call from HR to discuss severance, indicating that her public story may have led to her termination. But of course, other factors outside of the post may also have been at play and led to the decision.

Yelp is a publicly-traded company with a $1.38 billion market cap. It bought Eat24 in early 2015 for $124 million. Earlier in February, Yelp’s Chief Financial Officer stepped down, even as the company’s stock continues a downward trend after posting disappointing quarterly results. 

$8.15 an hour after taxes

Of her wages, Ben-Ora writes:

“I got paid yesterday ($733.24, bi-weekly) but I have to save as much of that as possible to pay my rent ($1245) for my apartment that’s 40 miles away from work because it was the cheapest place I could find that had access to the train, which costs me $5.65 one way to get to work. That’s $11.30 a day, by the way. I make $8.15 an hour after taxes.”

Minimum wage in San Francisco is $12.25 an hour. By 2018 it will be $15 an hour.

Ben-Ora’s post also includes an account of how she once found herself stranded outside of San Francisco without the cash to pay a toll to get to work. She says her manager suggested, “with full concern and sympathy for my situation,” that she go through the FastTrack lane and incur a $35 ticket that she could pay back later.

Here are some more standout lines:

  • “I haven’t bought groceries since I started this job. Not because I’m lazy, but because I got this ten pound bag of rice before I moved here and my meals at home (including the one I’m having as I write this) consist, by and large, of that. Because I can’t afford to buy groceries.”
  • “Bread is a luxury to me, even though you’ve got a whole fridge full of it on the 8th floor. But we’re not allowed to take any of that home because it’s for at-work eating. Of which I do a lot. Because 80 per cent of my income goes to paying my rent. Isn’t that ironic?” 
  • “[Do] you know what the average retention rate of your lowest employees (like myself) are? Because I haven’t been here very long, but it seems like every week the faces change.”

Since posting about her termination on Twitter, Ben-Ora has seen an outpouring of support, including donations to her personal PayPal account. She also works as a freelance writer.

Meanwhile, Ben-Ora’s Twitter handle has become a trending topic in San Francisco — apparently, her plight has struck a nerve in San Francisco, where income inequality is a very real and present issue.

Yelp provided this statement to Business Insider:

We do not comment on personnel issues. However, we did agree with many of the points in Ms. Jane’s post and we viewed it as her real, personal narrative about what it’s like to live in the Bay Area. Most importantly, it’s an important example of freedom of speech.

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 will pay the same wage.

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