Best and Worst Excuses for Being Late to Work

 © The Balance, 2018

There are lots of excuses for missing work, either for taking a day off or for coming in late. Some excuses are legitimate, such as when a babysitter cancels at the last minute, you or a family member are sick, or your car doesn't start. Other excuses, however, are just too bizarre or inappropriate to work.

Best Excuses for Being Late to Work

survey conducted by CareerBuilder reports on the most common excuses employees give for being late for work.

Traffic, sleep schedules, and weather conditions are the top three excuses given for arriving late for work:

  • Traffic - 51%
  • Oversleeping - 31%
  • Bad weather - 28%
  • Too tired to get up - 23%
  • Forgetting something -13%

Strange Excuses

There were also some strange excuses in this year's survey. 

  • It’s too cold to work.
  • I had morning sickness (it was a man).
  • My coffee was too hot and I couldn’t leave until it cooled off.
  • An astrologer warned me of a car accident on a major highway, so I took all backroads, making me an hour late.
  • My dog ate my work schedule.
  • I was here, but I fell asleep in the parking lot.
  • My fake eyelashes were stuck together.
  • Although it has been five years, I forgot I did not work at my former employer’s location and drove there on accident.

More Bizarre Excuses

Other excuses reported in an earlier survey were equally weird:

  • Employee claimed a zebra was running down the highway and held up traffic (turned out to be true)
  • Employee woke up on the front lawn of a house two blocks away from his home
  • Employee’s cat got stuck in the toilet
  • Employee couldn’t eat breakfast – he ran out of milk for cereal and had to buy some before getting ready for work
  • Employee was late to work because he fell asleep in the car when he got to work
  • Employee accidentally put superglue in her eye instead of contact lens solution and had to go to the emergency room
  • Employee thought Halloween was a work holiday
  • Employee said a hole in the roof caused rain to fall on the alarm clock and it didn’t go off
  • Employee was watching something on TV and really wanted to see the end
  • Employee forgot that the company had changed locations
  • Employee got a hairbrush stuck in her hair
  • Employee was scared by a nightmare

When Excuses Don't Work

Even though you think it might be okay to be late once in a while, your boss might not agree. The majority of employers (60 percent) say they expect employees to be on time every day, and 43 percent have fired someone for being late, up from 41 percent last year.

Tips for Giving Excuses When You're Going to Be Late

Before you consider using one of these creative excuses, keep in mind the following advice about giving excuses for missing work:

  • Let your boss know ASAP: If you know you will need to take a personal day in advance, let your boss know in person or via email as soon as possible. If it is a last-minute decision, contact your boss as early in the morning as you can. If possible, offer to come in early or stay late to make up for some of the hours lost.
  • Be (mostly) honest: There is a good chance that a bald-faced lie to your supervisor, colleagues, or clients will come back to bite you. It's not always easy to remember what you said to whom, and getting caught in a lie is not good for job security. Some employers also follow up with employees to see whether or not they are lying. Therefore, if you can, be honest about why you are missing work or coming in late.
  • Don’t overshare: While honesty is often the best policy, always keep your excuse simple, and don’t go into detail. An overly detailed excuse might sound fake, even if it isn’t. And if you are missing work for a reason you cannot share with your boss – for example, if you are interviewing for another job – you can keep the interview secret without lying. A simple excuse – for example, saying you have an appointment (which you do!) – will be honest without raising questions.
  • Use excuses sparingly: Things happen that are out of our control – we get sick, we get a flat tire, our child’s school cancels. However, try your best to only excuse yourself from work when it is absolutely necessary – otherwise, your employer and co-workers may come to see you as unreliable.
  • Be thoughtful about when you skip work: If it is at all in your control to select when you skip work – such as when you have a doctor’s appointment – try to plan a time when your absence will not be so perceptible. You might try to make the appointment at the beginning of the day, or towards the end of the day, so you are still at work for a solid few hours. Whenever possible, try to come in early or stay late to make up for the lost time.