Billionaire Elon Musk publicly mocked a former Twitter employee with a disability this week, insinuating that they exaggerated their disability and saying they “did no actual work.” The exchange marks a new low for Musk, who has laid off thousands of people since taking over Twitter in a botched $44 billion deal that saddled the company with debt. Haraldur Thorleifsson, who was a senior director at Twitter, just wanted to know if he’d been laid off or not. According to Thorleifsson, he reached out to Twitter’s Human Resources department to find out if he still had a job after losing access to work accounts. When that didn’t work, he pinged Elon Musk directly on Twitter.
“Dear @elonmusk 9 days ago the access to my work computer was cut, along with about 200 other Twitter employees,” Thorleifsson said on Twitter. “However your head of HR is not able to confirm if I am an employee or not. You've not answered my emails. Maybe if enough people retweet you'll answer me here?”Thorleifsson is the founder of the Ueno agency. He sold it to Twitter in 2021 and took a job at the social media giant. According to Thorleifsson—who uses a wheelchair due to having muscular dystrophy that is beginning to affect his upper body and arms, according to his website—he survived several rounds of layoffs after Musk took over. At the end of February, Twitter laid off hundreds more workers, some of whom were high-ranking employees who had founded companies that Twitter acquired. “What work have you been doing?” Musk responded to Thorleifsson’s question about his employment status.
Thorleifsson explained that it would break his confidentiality agreement to explain. Musk responded that he had permission and Thorleifsson detailed his job and several achievements. “Pics or it didn’t happen,” Musk replied. Then he replied to himself with a YouTube clip of a firing scene from Office Space.
“To be clear. You have every right to lay me off. That's totally fair and fine,” Thorleifsson said in response. But usually people are told when that happens. Maybe with a letter or something.Which didn't happen for 9 days despite multiple emails to you and others.”Hours later, Musk responded to a thread criticizing him for how he handled the event, by mocking Thorleifsson for being disabled. “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,” he said on Twitter. “Can’t say I have a lot of respect for that.”
Thorleifsson’s muscular dystrophy diagnosis and his use of mobility devices are well documented facts of his life and a motivation behind his charitable activities in his home country of Iceland, where he started a fund that builds wheelchair ramps. The morning after his back and forth with Musk, Thorleifsson detailed his disability on Twitter. “I'm not able to do manual work (which in this case means typing or using a mouse) for extended periods of time without my hands starting to cramp,” he said. “I can however write for an hour or two at a time. This wasn't a problem in Twitter 1.0 since I was a senior director and my job was mostly to help teams move forward, give them strategic and tactical guidance.”“But as I told HR (I'm assuming that's the confidential health information you are sharing) I can't work as a hands on designer for the reasons outlined above. I'm typing this on my phone btw. It's easier for [me] because I only need to use one finger,” he said. “I hope that helps! Let me know if you are going to pay what you owe me? I think you can afford it?”Haraldur Thorleifsson did not immediately respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.