Philip Morris Sacks Workers over Plan Withdrawals

May 24, 2006 ( - Philip Morris USA has fired workers at its two US cigarette manufacturing plants over allegations they were not completely honest in their efforts to pull money from the company's profit-sharing plan, according to a news media report.

The Charlotte Observer reported that 14 people have been fired at the company’sConcord, North Carolina plant for taking out hardship withdrawals for homes that were not listed on the initial application or for using the money for something other than buying the home they initially intended to purchase.

Philip Morris spokesman Bill Phelps told the newspaper that workers can be let go because of any falsification, misstatement or omission of information related to plan transactions. That message was part of a May 4 memo posted on company bulletin boards that also told employees the plans are subject to strict Internal Revenue Service and Labor Department rules and regulations, according to the news report.

Interviews and a list compiled by workers suggest as many as 70 workers have been cut since last fall for allegedly falsifying applications to make withdrawals. TheConcord plant employs 2,600 people.

Fired workers told the Observer that neither Philip Morris nor plan administrator Fidelity Investments raised concerns until recently. Many of the withdrawals the company cited as firing offenses were made several years ago, documents obtained by the newspaper showed.

Employees can use hardship withdrawals to buy a primary residence, to prevent eviction or foreclosure, or for certain medical and educational purposes. An employee is allowed to make a hardship withdrawal only after he or she has received loans from the plan.

Several former workers said they were fired because they applied for a withdrawal to buy one house and ended up getting a different one. Others said they planned to buy a house but later decided not to. They said they tried to give the money back to Fidelity but were told they could not.