'A misunderstanding' | HR ghosted disabled Twitter worker as Elon Musk mocked him online

HR ghosted disabled Twitter worker as Elon Musk mocked him online

A disabled Twitter employee reached out to Elon Musk to ask if he still had a job, having been ghosted by HR for several days. But instead of the answer he was looking for, the employee found himself being mocked by the Twitter owner for having a disability.

Haraldur Thorleifsson, who lives in Iceland, was one of approximately 200 Twitter employees who found themselves unexpectedly logged out of their company accounts last week.

Having received no official contact from HR about his employment status (or lack thereof), after nine days he took to the social media platform itself to ask Musk what was going on.

“Dear @elonmusk, 9 days ago the access to my work computer was cut, along with about 200 other Twitter employees. 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?” wrote Thorleifsson, who goes by ‘Halli’.

He followed this up with: “The reason I asked you in public is because you (or anyone else at Twitter) didn’t reply to my private messages”, adding: “You had every right to lay me off. But it would have been nice to let me know!”

The tweet soon caught Musk’s attention, but initially only elicited a six-word response: “What work have you been doing?”

After a back and forth, in which Thorliefsson explained the work he had done, Musk followed this up with a tweet referencing Thorleifsson’s disability, writing: “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. Can’t say I have a lot of respect for that.”

For context, Thorleifsson, who joined Twitter in 2021 when the company acquired his startup Ueno, has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair.

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He reportedly received his long-awaited email from HR, confirming his dismissal from the company, as the online controversy unfolded.

However, Musk later back peddled and claimed he’d been given incorrect information about the employee, and said he’d been asked to remain with the company.

“I would like to apologize 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. He is considering remaining at Twitter.”

Musk’s controversial streak continues

At this point, it’s perhaps inaccurate to call Musk’s legacy of HR nightmares at Twitter as a ‘streak’, as that would suggest it’s temporary and/or out of character.

On the contrary, since day one, Elon Musk’s premiership at Twitter serves as an ideal case study of what not to do as a leader.

We’ve all seen the innumerable headlines about threatening emails, redundancies, restructures, the expectation to work almost all the hours in the day, beds being installed in the offices of long-gone executives and meeting rooms. To put it lightly, Twitter’s culture is in total shambles, and one man is almost entirely responsible.

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This isn’t to say that Twitter wasn’t problematic before Musk took over. Like most companies, especially in the post-start-up tech space, Twitter had its fair share of issues that needed addressing. Under Musk, any hopes for a robust internal culture at Twitter have been fading by the day and this impulsive, discriminatory tweet has only hastened that.

Good culture, and the investment of your employees is incredibly hard to gain, and incredibly easy to lose. What can take decades to hone can be undone within a day.

Managing the lay-off process properly

The situation Thorleifsson and his fellow Twitter employees found themselves in was not the first time the company had erred while making redundancies.

Shortly after Musk was handed the keys to Twitter HQ, so to speak, he fired approximately half of Twitter’s workforce – roughly 3,700 employees, as he sought to slash costs and impose a demanding new work ethic.

Then came an embarrassing U-turn, when the form reportedly reached out to dozens of employees who were fired, asking them to resume their roles.

Twitter is a multinational company, and Thorleifsson was based in Iceland, however there are still many employees in the UK who could easily find themselves dismissed without warning, like he was.

Supporting employees through cancer

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Below, several experts explain why communication is key during any redundancy process.

Andrew Rhodes, an employment barrister at No5 Barristers’ Chambers, said: “If you are put in the position, as an employer, where you have to let some of your workers go, there are measures that are legally required to take place to ensure the process is fair. This must happen no matter the reason, including financial difficulties or simply no longer requiring the role.

“When you have selected the positions that need to be reduced, you are required to inform those potentially affected. As well as informing employees, you must also contact their union. If your workers do not have one, then you can skip this step. You are required to consult with affected employees throughout the redundancy process and take on board any suggestions they may have for how to avoid their roles being made redundant.”

Chris Phillips, Employment Law Specialist at Thornton, previously told HR Grapevine that it’s important that HR is aware of the psychological toll that redundancy can have on all employees. He stated that constant communication is the only way to mitigate negative effects on mental wellbeing.

“We’ve seen the Office for National Statistics confirm that the UK is now officially in recession following a 20% shrink in the economy in the second quarter of this year. These figures are frightening for an employee working remotely...” Phillips said.

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He added: “Imagine the anxiety felt and the impact that could have on the mental health of those workers if they are also not properly supported or in regular, meaningful contact with their colleagues and managers.”

On its website, the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) offers insight from Paul Holcroft, Associate Director at Croner, who advises firms on their HR policies – part of which covers redundancy packages. He said that honesty and clarity are the critical components of successful support.

Similarly, official guidance from the CIPD explained that ‘redundancy should be a last resort’.

“It can be one of the most distressing events an employee can experience. It requires sensitive handling by the employer to ensure fair treatment of redundant employees as well as the productivity and morale of the remaining workforce.

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