Wheelchair-bound Thorleifsson was born with a genetic muscular dystrophy disease known as dysferlinopathy that forced him to use a wheelchair since age of 25. Despite this, he managed to create a successful business Ueno which he sold to Twitter in 2021. He was named as Iceland's businessman of the year and he paid a higher tax rate from his Twitter sale to make sure that the government had more cash to meet the needs of disabled people.
Haraldur was on a “do not fire list” as it would cost Twitter millions to let him go (Some rumours say as much as $160 million). However, he came into work and found that he had been shut out of his computer. Not only had he been fired by Musk, but he was expected to pick up the news telepathically.
Thorleifsson said in his tweet, "your head of HR is not able to confirm if I am an employee or not."
He rang HR and no one was talking to him so he tweeted Musk who appears to have thought it would be fun to mock the disabled employee. Musk felt he was entitled to do so because Thorleifsson was only confronting him publically: “was to get a big payout. From what I’ve been told, he’s done almost no work for the past four months, middle-management or otherwise.”
Musk responded in a tweet asking, "what work have you been doing?" When Thorleifsson provided a list of his tasks in response, Musk appeared to cast doubt on several points. "Pics or it didn't happen," he tweeted. In a separate tweet, the billionaire said Thorleifsson "did no actual work, claimed as an excuse that he had a disability that prevented him from typing."
He added, “But was he fired? No, you can’t be fired if you weren’t working in the first place.”
Unfortunately for Musk, Thorleifsson didn’t get rich by inheriting a mine and could take as well as he got replied:
“Hi again @elonmusk 👋I hope you are well. I’m fine too. I’m thankful for your interest in my health. But since you mentioned it, I wanted to give you more info. I have muscular dystrophy. It has many effects on my body. Let me tell you what they are: https://t.co/2vb16kP6Yv
— Halli (@iamharaldur) March 7, 2023”
Then he added: "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 advice."
Unfortunately for Musk, what he thought would be a straightforward case of “bullying the cripple” was starting to lose him support. Not only did his chums say “it is jolly bad form” others were pointing out that Thorleifsson was a hero businessman.
Some of his fanboys who still consider him a genius were saying that Musk's personal attack is not a good look. calling him out for his "shockingly uncaring/cruel" behaviour.
“As someone who has worked directly with @iamharaldur during a turnaround, this is super disappointing to see. Not only is his work ethic next level, but 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”.
There have been some suggestions that Musk may have been warned by his lawyers that he was going too far.
Then there's the fact that he may be getting Twitter in trouble as well. According to Platformer, Thorleifsson, a senior product design director for Twitter, was terminated last week despite being on a "do not fire list," as it was reportedly expensive to pay him out.
Musk later apologised for his "misunderstanding of his situation" after a video call with Haraldur, and blaming the fact he had been “misinformed” on someone else.
“I would like to apologise to Halli 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 wrote.
In a tweet commenting on Musk’s situation, Joshua Erlich, an employment and civil rights attorney based in Virginia, wrote, “lord grant me defendants this dumb.”
“But Musk's ‘the reality is’ tweet reads like Musk looked up this employee's human resources file and is tweeting out the company's internal reasoning for the termination. That reasoning seems pretty problematic and it would be more than enough to carry [a] disability discrimination or failure to accommodate case deep into litigation.”