A Single Mother Blames Yelp for Her Firing – Proving That Something Needs to Be Fixed

"I am the single mother who while in the ICU today got a phone call from my manager, director, and HR who said I could either come in now or resign."

March 1, 2016

Two weeks ago, Talia Jane, a 20-something customer service worker for Yelp, wrote an angry open letter on Medium to Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman explaining how she is underpaid and can barely afford her Bay Area rent. The post went viral and two hours later Jane updated the post saying that Yelp decided to let her go.

“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,” Talia Jane wrote. “Another guy who got hired, and ultimately let go, was undoubtedly homeless.”

Now a week later, former Yelp employee Jaymee Senigaglia claims she was recently fired by Yelp for asking for three days of unpaid leave to care for her injured boyfriend. In her Medium post published on Monday, Senigaglia explained how she received a call from her manager while in the ICU with her boyfriend. Her manager said that she needed to come to work immediately or resign.

“I am the single mother who while in the ICU today got a phone call from my manager, director, and HR who said I could either come in now or resign. When I said I needed some time and this is all traumatic with caring for my boyfriend they told me that I would need to make a decision by noon and if I didn’t come in or resign, they would terminate me. In tears I said ok and hung up.”

Of course, there is two sides to every story. Yelp tweeted about the incident, saying that Senigaglia’s repeated absences are the reason why she was fired.

“Unfortunately, we had to part ways with Ms. Senigaglia due to repeated absences (10 of her 59 workdays with Yelp) despite many exceptions to accommodate her needs,” the Tweet said. “We provided multiple, documented warnings and ongoing performance counseling specifically related to reliability and attendance issues.”

Since the post went live, thousands of commenters have argued who’s to blame here. Is it the worker’s fault for taking a paying job in an expensive city (“I am the single mother who took out a loan with 300% interest to move to SF,” Senifaflia wrote)? Or is Yelp responsible for paying higher wages?

The real issue

Now, I’m not defending Senigaglia because frankly, I think she’s in the wrong. Yelp isn’t to blame for her poor financial decisions. But I think there’s a bigger issue here that needs to be addressed: why on earth do big companies insist on having call centers in major cities?

Like it or not, customer service employees are low-skilled laborers. Yes, they are the face (or voice) of the company, but it only takes a couple of weeks to train virtually anyone to be great at the job. Because of that, qualified people can be found anywhere: Albuquerque, Phoenix, St. Louis. Any of those cities would welcome Yelp’s call centers with wide open arms.

There’s a reason most companies have their customer service centers overseas. Cheap labor in countries that speak great English is an easy move.

You think a single mom in St. Louis with full healthcare, free snacks, and a $45,000 a year a job that doesn’t require a college degree would write a public letter to the CEO, complaining about low pay? Doubtful.

I do see some value in having a call center in San Francisco or New York with the rest of the company. Starting in the mailroom of a company and working your way up is part of the American Dream. Plus, having entry-level positions for people who don’t fit the mold is an absolute must. This gives people who don’t look great on paper a chance to prove their value, work ethic, and creativity.

However, in today’s competitive business world, especially at a tech company like Yelp, most roles require technical expertise. You think someone working in the proverbial mail room can learn how to become a front-end developer? Possible… but not likely.

Of course, there are other jobs at Yelp that don’t require technical skills. Yelp is heavy on sales and working your way up to become an account manager is feasible. But, based off the last two weeks, which were filled with Medium posts written by people demanding higher wages, it appears that having a call center in an expensive city is just bad news.

Plus, I’d bet that these types of people (the ones writing on Medium) aren’t the type who want to put in the time to work their way up. They’re looking for a simple, reliable 9-to-5 (which is fine) and probably not expecting to work hard enough to climb the ladder.

And so I think it’s time for Yelp to move. Otherwise they should expect a dozen other posts blaming the company, saying, “I am the single mother whose 3-year-old hid her keys in the fridge on Friday and couldn’t get to fucking work.”

Update: A representative from Yelp recently sent us this: 

“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.
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 will pay the same wage.”

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