Here we go again.
Just two weeks ago, a Yelp/Eat 24 employee's Medium post entitled "An Open Letter to My CEO" went viral. In it, Talia Jane (not her full name) and her sharp criticism quickly made headlines--and led to her being fired a few hours later. (You can read the full story and analysis here: Emotional Intelligence 101: Why a Millennial's Letter to Yelp's CEO Got Her Fired.)
Now, another (former) sales employee has taken to Medium to detail what she feels was extremely insensitive treatment from Yelp. This time, though, the story has taken a sharp turn.
In a post entitled "Yelp Fired a Single Mother Today: Me" (published on Monday), Jaymee Senigaglia accuses the company of firing her because she wouldn't leave her injured boyfriend's side to come to work. Her boyfriend, however, happened to be in the intensive care unit with a brain injury he suffered "in a horrible mountain biking accident," according to Senigaglia.
Yeah, that definitely looks bad. Still, I'm the first to admit that it's not my place to judge this situation, as there are two sides to every story--and no one really knows all the facts.
But what's disturbing is what came next--Yelp's official response on Twitter:
"Yelp employs thousands of people and provides new job opportunities to hundreds each year. We provide extensive training and significant benefits to our employees, as well as guidance for those with performance issues.
"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. We provided multiple, documented warnings and ongoing performance counseling specifically related to reliability and attendance issues. Sadly, this role was not a good fit. We wish her the best."
There's nothing specifically wrong with this reply--if it's part of a legal deposition. But as a reply on social media, regarding a person who's significant other has just suffered a brain injury and may be hanging on to dear life?...yeah, I can see how that might be viewed as a tad insensitive.
Not only does this response reinforce the idea that Yelp's "powers that be" are a cold-hearted, unfeeling bunch (at best), there are numerous legal issues. As my fellow Inc. writer Tess Townsend dutifully reported, lawyers have raised questions about "whether Yelp violated Senigaglia's right to privacy or gave her grounds to accuse the company of defamation." Not to mention the public disclosure of personnel information.
Lack of leadership.
But the biggest problem here has nothing to do with the legal woes, the PR fiasco, or even the branding aspect.
The greatest danger facing Yelp right now is that the leaders of the company are not taking control.
Think about it: That first letter went viral two weeks ago, creating a massive dent in Yelp's public image. Sure, the author came off as a spoiled and entitled complainer to many, but she raised some important issues.
When she was fired within a few hours, many felt that Yelp was acting out in revenge.
Yelp CEO Jeremy Stopellman even felt compelled to acknowledge that the firing "was not because [Talia] posted a Medium letter directed at me," and requested the "Twitter army please put down the pitchforks."
At this point, Stopellman and his team's priorities should have included the following:
- Analyze current management practice and see if this is an isolated incident or if there are serious problems.
- Continue developing a strategy to solve the problem of wage/cost-of-living discrepancy for entry-level workers.
- Take a closer look at how the company, the leadership team, and employees are using social media--ideally getting an outside view to add perspective--and make adjustments as needed.
- Put the PR team on red alert.
I can't say if Stopellman did any of those things, but he came woefully short with the last two.
To emphasize, I'm not condemning Yelp's decision to fire Ms. Senigaglia. Assuming her account is true, however, the company should have at least waited for the situation with her boyfriend to play out. But of course, without the details, there's simply no way to judge--and it's not the point I'm trying to make.
What Yelp's leadership team must realize is this:
Your company is what others perceive it to be. With that type of response on Twitter, Stoppellman and company showed they haven't learned from recent mistakes.
Here's hoping this one is a wake up call.