Elon Musk’s Public Spat With A Disabled Employee Is Probably The Worst Thing He’s Ever Done

"I would like to apologize to Halli for my misunderstanding of his situation."

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Twitter CEO and former richest person in the world Elon Musk has issued a public apology after accusing a former employee living with muscular dystrophy of doing “no work for the past four months”.

After being locked out of his company computer without warning, Twitter employee Halli Thorleifsson tried and failed to reach a HR representative to clarify his status with the company. Nine days later Thorleifsson, a designer living with muscular dystrophy who became a Twitter employee in 2021 after his company Ueno was acquired by Twitter, decided to reach out to his boss Elon Musk online.

‘What Work Have You Been Doing?’ Elon Musk Takes Exit Interview Public

Thorleifsson’s enquiry eventually got a response from the CEO. Instead of telling Thorleifsson that clarification was coming or apologising for the breakdown in communication — you know, normal CEO responses — Musk got the ball rolling by asking Thorleifsson “What work have you been doing?”. He pointed out that a response would serve as a breach of his employment confidentially clause, but Musk gave him legal approval to continue.

What ensued was essentially a corporate exit interview broadcast to social media in real time, with Thorleifsson listing his achievements while working at Twitter to an incredulous Musk, who either downplayed or completely disregarded them, at one point ridiculing Thorleifsson with laughing emojis and clips of the 1999 workplace comedy Office Space. Midway through the Twitter argument, Thorleifsson received formal notice from HR that he had been fired from the company.

Musk’s contempt for Thorleifsson quickly spilled out of the original thread and into the replies of other commentators reacting to the mess, leading Musk to make the sensational claim that Thorleifsson hadn’t been wronged by Twitter, but was actually “independently wealthy” and merely milking a disability to shirk responsibilities while working at the company.

Musk Accuses Iceland’s Person Of The Year Of Provoking Him For A “Big Payout”

What Musk probably didn’t know (though he was only a Google search away) is that Thorleifsson is a beloved public figure in Iceland who comes from a working-class family. He actually elected to pay a higher tax rate for the sale of his former company Ueno to Twitter in order to return money to the Icelandic social services system. And he was named Icelander of the year in 2022. As many rushed to his defence and Thorleifsson shared his own harrowing experience living and working with muscular dystrophy, Musk shared that the public’s support of the now ex-employee “hurts my faith in humanity”.

Finally relenting to public pressure (or the desperate pleas of Twitter’s shellshocked legal department), Musk claimed that he reached out to Thorleifsson privately, unironically saying that it’s “better to talk to people than communicate via tweet”. A formal apology of sorts came a short time later, with Musk basically blaming everyone else but himself.

Describing his fight with Musk as “extremely stressful” and “strange” to the BBC, Thorleifsson’s experience has opened the company to discrimination lawsuits. According to the legal publication Law and Crime, “US companies can be held liable for terminating a disabled employee purely because of that person’s disability, even when that employee is a foreign national”.

We’re Witnessing The Death of Twitter Folks

It’s almost been a year since Elon Musk initiated his spectacularly messy acquisition of Twitter, and there’s no better spirit level for measuring how the social media platform is faring than the controversy generated in the last few months. Let’s reflect:

  • Esther Crawford, the employee famously photographed sleeping in her office to prove her loyalty to her boss during the early days of Musk’s transition into the role of CEO, was unceremoniously let go recently as part of yet another round of layoffs that has defined Twitter 2.0.
  • Twitter is currently facing over $130 million in legal costs as over a thousand ex-employees fight to have their severance pay deposited in court, according to Insider. Ex-employees won a court case last year after a judge ruled that the layoffs breached the US Federal law, which specifies employees require at least sixty days notice of termination.
  • Widespread site outages have become routine at Twitter, with a major feature for subscribers breaking on day one of release. A multitude of free third-party apps for the platform also broke after Twitter stopped allowing developers to use its API for free.
  • The US Federal Trade Commission is investigating Twitter over fears that Twitter now lacks adequate resources to fully protect its users’ data after Musk reduced the company’s 7,000 employees to less than 2,000, and is pressuring Musk to personally testify at the commission.
  • Finally, Musk reportedly requested employees tweak Twitter’s algorithm to boost traffic on his tweets after US President Joe Biden received more views than Musk during the Super Bowl.