Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Investigation Causes Stir in Edgecombe County

It's been an eventful day at one of the largest employers in Edgecombe County. More than 200 employees at QVC got a shock when they clocked in to work this morning: they were being placed on unpaid leave. In an economic time when so many people are already feeling pain, the workers say missing out on a few days of pay is an incredible pinch.

The situation is connected to the workers taking 'hardship loans' from their 401k accounts, according to a letter given to the QVC employees. The company says in that letter that it is investigating whether certain employees borrowed the funds from their 401ks improperly. The employees who borrowed the money and are under investigation must prove to QVC that the money was used for legitimate purposes. If they can't provide that documentation within the next few days, they could face a disciplinary action—and possibly even be fired. Finding a new job in Edgecombe County—which has one of North Carolina's highest unemployment rates—is not an easy thing to do. Just the notion of losing their jobs has many of these employees understandably very nervous.

For it's part, QVC says in a statement:

“QVC is investigating alleged irregularities regarding employee 401k hardship withdrawals at our Rocky Mount Distribution Center. Due to the current investigation, we cannot provide any additional information at this time.” QVC employs 950 people at the Edgecombe county facility.

The affected employees all gathered at the 'Pack House,' an old store a half-mile from the QVC distribution facility to talk about the situation. One of them told me he had borrowed about $800 from his 401k because he was behind on his rent and also needed to help his daughter pay college tuition. He says the company told the employees they could take out the 'hardship loans' and that Fidelity, which administers the plan, approved them.

With their hours cut, wages frozen and facing other challenges brought on by an economy in recession, many of the workers were taking advantage of the loans to help pay their bills. The employee I spoke with says QVC has been a good company to work for. He just wishes QVC had finished its investigation before the company prevented its employees from coming to work and earning their paychecks. QVC says any employees who are investigated and found to have done nothing wrong will be 'made good' for the hours they were forced to miss.


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