An extraordinary Twitter battle between Elon Musk and a wheelchair-bound employee has seen the man’s job termination rescinded – by order of the tech billionaire himself.
Earlier this week, Musk was accused of publicly mocking a recently-fired Twitter employee, claiming that the man with muscular dystrophy “did no actual work” during his time at the company.
Iceland-based Haraldur Thorleifsson worked for Twitter since February 2021 after selling his digital brand agency to the company.
But this week, Mr Thorleifsson tweeted Musk, claiming that he, and 200 other staffers, could not access their work computer for nine days.
He stated the company neither Twitter HR or Musk himself confirmed whether they were even still employed.
“[Nine] days ago, the access to my work computer was cut, along with about 200 other Twitter employees,” he tweeted.
“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?”
The tweets went viral, and Musk did just that, albeit with a brutal public grilling.
Musk asked the man to explain the work he had been doing for Twitter.
Mr Thorleifsson then detailed in a series of tweets all of the achievements he had made for Twitter during his time there.
But Musk appeared unsatisfied and responded to some of Mr Thorleifsson’s responses with jokes, comedic video clips, and even crying-with-laughter emojis.
In the tweet exchange, Mr Thorleifsson even said that if he had been fired, he was understanding.
“To be clear. You have every right to lay me off. That’s totally fair and fine,” he said.
“But usually people are told when that happens. Maybe with a letter or something.
“Which didn’t happen for nine days despite multiple emails to you and others.”
Musk was ridiculed for his response.
“There’s no reason to treat someone like this,” one commenter said. “Just an absolutely horrible person.”
However, he doubled down with another brutal tweet.
“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,” Musk also tweeted in response to the subsequent backlash.
“Can’t say I have a lot of respect for that.”
The billionaire added: “But was he fired? No, you can’t be fired if you weren’t working in the first place.”
Mr Thorleifsson shot back with a lengthy thread explaining his disability.
“My legs were the first to go. When I was 25 years old, I started using a wheelchair,” he wrote.
“The rest of my body has been failing me too. I need help to get in and out of bed and use the toilet.”
Mr Thorleifsson said he decided to sell his business to Twitter because “my body was continuing to get weaker”.
He said his muscular dystrophy had impacted his fingers, preventing him from doing intensive computer work.
However, he added: “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.”
Mr Thorleifsson said he can still write for shorter periods, explaining why he could tweet but only work part-time in specific roles at Twitter.
A former co-worker of Mr Thorleifsson also weighed in.
“As someone who has worked directly with (Mr Thorleifsson) during a turnaround, this is super disappointing to see,” former co-worker Daniel Houghton said.
“Not only is his work ethic next level, his talent and humility are world class.
“Exactly the kind of person you want on your team when the odds are stacked.
“I feel certain there’s a deep misunderstanding somewhere in here of “did no actual work”.
On Wednesday morning (AEDT), in a spectacular change of heart, the discussion between Musk and Mr Thorleifsson transcended from Twitter to a video call.
“Based on your comment, I just did a video call with [Mr Thorleifsson] to figure out what’s real vs what I was told. It’s a long story. Better to talk to people than communicate via tweet,” he said in response to Mr Houghton.
“I would like to apologise to [Mr 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.
“He is considering remaining at Twitter.”
There has so far been no word from Mr Thorleifsson on whether or not he’ll stay with the social media company.
Twitter’s workforce is now estimated to be below 2000, down from 7500 after Musk spearheaded a huge downsizing after taking it over in October last year.