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Questioning of Disabled Employee Brings More Attention To Musk’s Employment Practices

Halli Thorleifsson worked for Twitter as a senior director of product design after selling his digital brand design agency to Twitter two years ago. Thorleifsson works remotely from his home in Iceland. After being locked out of his work computer and unable to get an explanation from human resources, Thorleifsson tweeted at Elon Musk to find out whether he had been fired. Musk did respond. He asked what work Thorleifsson had been doing. The two had an exchange on Twitter where Musk pushed back on Thorleifsson. Musk then tweeted, "The reality is that this guy (who is independently wealthy) did no actual work, claimed as his excuse that he had a disability that prevented him from typing, yet was simultaneously tweeting up a storm." Thorleifsson has muscular dystrophy that limits his ability to use his hands, which he provided details about in a long thread responding to Musk's assertions. Twitter's HR confirmed it had laid Thorleifsson off.

Following their exchange, Musk apparently got on a video call with Thorleifsson. Thereafter, Musk issued a rare apology. He said, "I would like to apologise to [Thorleifsson] for my misunderstanding of his situation. It was based on things I was told that were untrue or, in some cases, true but not meaningful.” Musk seemingly gave Thorleifsson the option to remain at Twitter. 

Thorleifsson believes Twitter made a mistake with his firing and had intended to make it a “for cause”  termination to avoid paying out his contract. When Thorleifsson sold his company to Twitter in 2021, he took the money through salary, rather than a lump sum, to pay a higher tax rate to Iceland. Several media outlets named him Iceland's person of the year in 2022 based on his company's sale and efforts to install wheelchair ramps across Iceland.