Yelp Employee Fired After Complaining Publicly About Low Pay

Talia Jane spent 80 percent of her salary on rent.
(Photo: Jim Young/Reuters)
Feb 21, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

One of the perks of Silicon Valley work culture is a stocked kitchen. But as convenient as free cereal and peaches may be, they are no substitute for getting paid enough to buy groceries.

At least, that’s how former Yelp employee Talia Jane felt. On Friday, she wrote a blog post on Medium addressed to Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman that detailed her low pay and struggle to afford both her rent and groceries in the pricey San Francisco Bay Area. A few hours later, she was fired.

“I haven’t bought groceries since I started this job,” Jane wrote in her “Dear Jeremy” post. “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.”

While Yelp officials have declined to comment on the reason for Jane’s termination, she tweeted that human resources told her she was let go because her letter violated Yelp’s Terms of Conduct.

Yelp is a publicly traded company worth $1.37 billion. It purchased delivery service Eat24 in 2015 for $124 million.

Stoppelman, whose net worth is estimated at around $222 million, responded to Jane’s post on Twitter, shifting the discussion to an acknowledgment that housing in the Bay Area is too expensive. He made no mention of efforts to raise wages for Yelp employees struggling to get by—an omission that bothered Jane.

The tech boom has contributed to astronomical rent increases in San Francisco. The average apartment within 10 miles of the city cost $3,058 a month for a one-bedroom and $3,925 for two bedrooms.

According to Jane’s blog post, she made $8.15 an hour after taxes working in the customer support department for Yelp and Eat24. Minimum wage in San Francisco (where Yelp’s headquarters are located) is $12.25 an hour and will rise to $15 an hour by 2018. Jane wrote that she lives 30 miles (and a $11.30 round-trip train ride) from work and pays $1,245 a month in rent. According to her calculations, about 80 percent of her wages go to rent, leaving little left to pay for her phone bill, heating bill, or meals.

The 25-year-old noted that her situation isn’t unique, detailing in her post the struggles of other employees, like one who set up a GoFundMe page to pay rent, and others forced to live with their parents or take second jobs to make ends meet. Even tech employees with larger salaries have been priced out of San Francisco. Research from RadPad found that even employees earning six figures at companies such as Uber and Airbnb were spending upwards of 50 percent of their salary on rent.

Yelp has already announced it is expanding entry-level positions for Eat24 in Phoenix, where employees will earn the same wages as their San Francisco colleagues. Average rent prices in Phoenix are about $900 for a one-bedroom apartment, meaning entry-level employees can still expect to spend upwards of 60 percent of their after-tax salary on housing.