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Disabled Twitter worker learns he’s fired as Elon Musk mocks him online

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Haraldur “Halli” Thorleifsson, an Icelandic design agency founder whose company was acquired by Twitter, says he was left in the dark about his employment status at the social media company after access to his work computer was cut.

After nine days of no clear answer, he publicly tweeted at Twitter’s CEO Elon Musk. Their ensuing conflict quickly went viral online, culminating in Musk questioning the man’s disability and Thorleifsson eventually learning that his employment had been terminated.

The bizarre interaction began with Thorleifsson asking Musk on Twitter if he still had a job, after he and allegedly 200 others had access to their work computers axed over a week prior. He claims that Twitter’s human resources department was not able to confirm to him if he was still an employee, and emails to the CEO were going unanswered.

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He also tweeted at Jack Dorsey, the former CEO of Twitter, who acquired Thorleifsson’s design agency for the social media platform in 2021. Thorleifsson says he sold his company to Twitter and became a senior director in product design for them because he “believed in what (Dorsey was) building.”

Thorleifsson says he stayed on after Musk acquired the company and survived many rounds of layoffs, until the most recent.

In response to Thorleifsson’s question about his employment status, Musk asked, “What work have you been doing?”

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“I would need to break confidentiality to answer this question here,” Thorleifsson responded.

“It’s approved, you go ahead,” Musk replied.

After the senior director listed some of his contributions to the company, with Musk asking some follow-up questions, the exchange ended with Musk posting two laughing emojis.

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Thorleifsson tweeted that after his exchange with Musk, Twitter’s human resources department “miraculously” responded to his original question.

“I finally have confirmation that I no longer work at Twitter!!” he wrote.

In response to another user’s tweet about the online back-and-forth, Musk claimed that Thorleifsson “did no actual work” at Twitter, and used his disability “as his excuse” for why he couldn’t type.

“Can’t say I have a lot of respect for that,” Musk said.

The CEO added: “But was he fired? No, you can’t be fired if you weren’t working in the first place!”

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Thorleifsson later wrote on Twitter that he doesn’t do hands-on design work at the company because he was hired as a senior director “mostly to help teams move forward, give them strategic and tactical guidance.”

He also has muscular dystrophy, which means he is “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.”

Thorleifsson has used a wheelchair since he was 25 due to dysferlinopathy, and he has started to lose strength in his arms, he said. His experiences with disability inspired him to lead an initiative to install hundreds of wheelchair-accessible ramps in Iceland’s capital, leading the country’s public broadcasting corporation to name him Iceland’s Person of the Year in 2022.

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“Companies let people go, that’s within their rights,” Thorleifsson tweeted. “They usually tell people about it but that’s seemingly the optional part at Twitter now.”

Some observers of the interaction between Thorleifsson and Musk have been left wondering if the worker’s disability factored into Twitter’s decision to officially let him go, since the CEO has doubts about its validity. Others are questioning if Thorleifsson’s firing is legal.

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Since Musk took over Twitter, the company’s headcount has drastically decreased — from roughly 7,500 employees to less than 2,000 currently, Forbes reported. Amid the internal turmoil, Twitter has been plagued with outages and major glitches. On Monday, users reported issues logging in and getting videos and images to load.

In November last year, a disabled worker sued Twitter after he was fired when Musk ended the company’s remote work policy. The plaintiff said he has a disability that makes him vulnerable to COVID-19, and he would be put at risk if asked to work in an office.

The lawsuit added that many Twitter employees with disabilities have been forced to resign because they could not meet Musk’s demanding performance and productivity standards.

— With files from Reuters

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