I can see why employers spend a lot of time scaring off 401k hardship applicants. If the process were easy, everyone would probably consider doing it at least once. I know when my mother passed away, I seriously considered writing a letter of hardship so I could tap into my 401k savings. It was a lot of money to pay all at once, but then I discovered she had some insurance policies I didn't know about and they were enough to cover her funeral expenses.
When I asked my boss about the hardship withdrawal process, he shook his head and said I really didn't need to explore that option unless I was completely tapped out. He said the tax penalties alone were substantial, and I would miss all that money when it came time to claim it later.