The Yelp employee who said she was fired after she blogged about the financial pressures she felt while working for the multibillion-dollar business said Monday that her breaking point came one night when she went to sleep — and woke up "starving" two hours later.
Talia Ben-Ora posted an open letter Friday afternoon to Yelp chief executive Jeremy Stoppelman, saying she wasn't earning a living wage while working in customer support at Eat24, Yelp's San Francisco-based food delivery arm.
She was out of work hours later, she said.
"They knew that I was picking up pennies and that I was having trouble sleeping and that I was cutting back on every single possible thing I could think of," Ben-Ora told The Washington Post. "But I was still working as hard as I could — and being as good as I could possibly be at the job."
In her letter to Stoppelman, which she posted on Medium, she had expressed concerns about how Yelp treats its employees.
"So here I am, 25-years old, balancing all sorts of debt and trying to pave a life for myself that doesn’t involve crying in the bathtub every week," she wrote. "Every single one of my coworkers is struggling.
"They’re taking side jobs, they’re living at home."
Ben-Ora said she earned about $733 biweekly.
On that salary, she wrote in the letter, she simply could not survive on her own in the San Francisco Bay Area — where the cost of living is indeed soaring.
She didn't have enough cash for groceries, she said, and had to live 30 miles from work to afford the rent — $1,245 per month, plus gas and electric.
"Your employee for your food delivery app that you spent $300 million to buy can’t afford to buy food," she wrote. "That’s gotta be a little ironic, right?"
In 2015, San Francisco was ranked the third most expensive urban area in the United States, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research's cost-of-living index.
Expatistan estimates that a furnished apartment in a "normal" area in San Francisco costs more than $3,400 per month. Public transportation runs $80 a month and whole milk sells for $1.25 a liter, according to Expatistan.
The minimum wage in the city is $12.25 an hour.
Ben-Ora said she had talked to her managers about a raise.
Then, she said, she decided to go public with her concerns.
"At first I sent a couple of tweets to Stoppelman," she said. But she realized it "wouldn't effectively show him it was something I was serious about. So that's why I decided I should write this out so that he understands the situation I'm in and the aspects of that that runs throughout the company."
In her nearly 2,500-word letter, Ben-Ora explained the complaints she had with Yelp, including how she was required to work for a year in customer service before she could move into another position.
"A whole year answering calls and talking to customers just for the hope that someday I’d be able to make memes and twitter jokes about food," she wrote.
Since Ben-Ora aired her concerns, her complaints have brought on a barrage of both comfort and criticism.
"I paid my dues. I did what I had to do in order to survive, with the help of my family," Williams wrote. "I was gracious and thankful and worked as hard as I could even if it was a job that sometimes made me question my worth. And I was successful because of that."
Williams warned Ben-Ora about managing her own expectations.
"Work ethic is not something that develops from entitlement. Quite the opposite, in fact," she wrote. "It develops when you realize there are a million other people who could perform your job and you are lucky to have one. It comes from sucking up the bad aspects and focusing on the good and above all it comes from humility. It comes from modesty.
"And those are two things, based on your article, that you clearly do not possess."
After Ben-Ora posted her letter Friday afternoon, she said, her work email was disabled.
She said she called her boss and told him she thought she had been fired — and why. He looked into it, she said, and when he called her back, he was on the line with a representative from human resources.
"They said, 'Because of this letter, we think it's better that we separate ties with you,' " she said.
Ben-Ora said on Twitter she was fired because "the letter violated Yelp's 'Terms of Conduct.'"
Stoppelman, Yelp's chief executive, responded over the weekend to Ben-Ora's accusations, saying that although he agreed with her that the cost of living in San Francisco is "far too high," she was not fired because of the letter.
However, he did not explain the impetus for her firing. He only noted that there are two sides to every story.
"Twitter army," he wrote, "please put down the pitchforks."
Yelp said in a statement Monday that it does not comment on personnel matters. But the company echoed Stoppelman's sentiment.
"We did agree with many of the points in the Medium post and thought it served as an important example of Ms. Ben-Ora's freedom of speech," the company said in a statement to The Post. "We agree with her remarks 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."
Ben-Ora said she did not think she'd lose her job by speaking out.
"Obviously, in hindsight, I should have expected to get fired," she said, adding: "The whole point was to say, 'This is how I'm struggling.'
"It's not a unique issue," she added. "I was hoping [Stoppelman] would see what needs to be done — not just with me but with everyone."
[This story has been updated.]