Elon Musk speaks at Tesla’s Investor Day.

Courtesy: Tesla

Elon Musk on Tuesday walked back his attacks on a disabled Twitter employee who was fired by the company and apologized for what he called a “misunderstanding.”

On Tuesday, Musk questioned the performance of Haraldur Thorleifsson, nicknamed “Halli,” who he said had “virtually not worked for the last four months.”

“I would like to apologize to Hala for misunderstanding his situation,” Musk tweeted late Tuesday. “It was based on things that were told to me that weren’t true or, in some cases, were true but didn’t make sense.”

“He’s considering staying at Twitter,” Musk added.

Torleifsson, a disabled Icelandic entrepreneur, found himself embroiled in a war of words with Musk after he was asked about his employment status. Thorleifsson and Twitter, which no longer has a communications department, did not respond to questions from CNBC by the time of publication.

Thorleifsson tweeted to Musk on Monday that he had been locked out of his work computer for several days and had not heard back from Twitter’s human resources department on whether he had been fired.

He suggested he may have been one of the 200 employees the company laid off in February.

Musk, an avid Twitter user, responded by asking Thorleifson, “What kind of work have you been doing?” to which Thorleifson responded that he had saved the company $500,000 on a SaaS (software as a service) contract and had led the way in prioritizing design projects.

When Musk asked for more details, Torleifsson referred to the SaaS contract he saved the company money on as the Figma design platform and said his prioritization work applied to “all active design projects.”

Musk went on to respond with two laughing face emojis and later tweeted a link to a clip from the movie Office Space, a comedy film that parodies office culture, where an employee is asked, “What would you say you’re doing here?”

After speaking with Musk, Thorleifson said Twitter’s head of human resources told him he had been fired.

Musk continued to criticize Torleifsson for his work at the company, saying he “didn’t actually work, claiming as his excuse that he has a disability that prevents him from typing, but at the same time chirping up a storm.”

When an employee has to ask their boss via Twitter if they still have a job or not, clearly something has gone wrong.

Matt Monette

UK and Ireland’s leading executive, Deel

Billy Marcus, co-creator of dogecoin and an ally of Musk, expressed disapproval of Musk’s tweets. In a since-deleted reply to Marcus, Musk said: “He’s the worst, sorry.”

After a Twitter user said he worked directly with Thorleifsson and found his work ethic “top notch,” Musk says he gave Thorleifson a video call “to find out what’s real and what I’ve been told.” Musk then apologized and suggested that Torleifsson was considering staying at Twitter.

Matt Monett, UK and Ireland head of HR platform Deel, said there was a “greater need for effective internal communications” as layoffs of technical staff increased and remote working became more common.

“When an employee has to ask their boss via Twitter if they have a job or not, clearly something has gone wrong,” Manette told CNBC via email. “Employers need to make sure they are following the rules in different countries.”

The incident is one of the strangest developments to date in the saga surrounding Musk’s purchase of Twitter. Last year, Musk agreed to buy the social network for $44 billion. Since then, he has sought to cut costs drastically to make the venture profitable.

As part of this strategy, Musk fired thousands of Twitter employees. It cut another 200 jobs last month, bringing its total workforce down to 2,000 from about 7,500 in October, according to a report by The New York Times.

Person of the year

Thorleifsson, 45, was brought to Twitter as senior director of product design following the sale of Ueno, a digital brand design agency, to Twitter in 2021. He suffers from muscular dystrophy, a disease that weakens muscles over time. Thorleifson explained that his disability makes it harder for him to perform manual labor for long periods of time without his hands cramping.

According to the Icelandic Review, Thorleifsson was named Iceland’s “Man of the Year” in 2022 by several Icelandic media outlets, partly due to the sale of Ueno and his efforts to install wheelchair ramps across the country.

Torleifson says one of the reasons he sold the company — which he described as unfavorable financial conditions — was because his disability made it harder for him to do manual labor.

Thorleifsson reportedly decided to take the sale price as salary so he could pay 46% income tax rather than the standard 22% tax rate on investment income.

Thorleifson said he did not know if he would receive severance pay. “Companies let people go, it’s their right,” Thorleifsson said on Twitter. “They usually tell people about it, but now it’s an optional part of Twitter.”

It is not yet clear what he will decide to do next – although earlier on Tuesday he said he planned to open a restaurant named after his mother in central Reykjavik “very soon”.

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