Excuses for Missing Work (Good and Bad Reasons)

Best and Worst Excuses for Getting Out of Work

According to a CareerBuilder survey, 40% of workers took a fake sick day during 2017, the most recent year for which data was available. That was up from 35% the previous year.

We could speculate about why workers feel compelled to call in sick when they’re well. But, the most important thing to you, the potential malingerer reading this article, is to protect yourself from the negative repercussions of faking a sick day. The best way to do that is to be honest – or as honest as you possibly can be, under the circumstances.

As Mark Twain once said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” The best excuses for getting out of work are truthful ones. Everyone needs a day off now and then. Before you assume that you need a more fanciful explanation, examine your real reasons and ask yourself if they’re legitimate. The list below can give you a sense of what’s acceptable.

And then, for contrast, read on for some truly terrible excuses for missing work. (Hint: llama-related reasons are typically not persuasive to managers.)

 Illustration by Alison Czinkota © The Balance, 2018

Good Excuses for Missing Work

If you are concerned about using the "I need a sick day" excuse too many times and want to be creative, here are some work excuses that might work when you need a reason to take time off from your job:

  • Appointments (financial planner, accountant, lawyer, etc.)
  • Babysitter problems
  • Car troubles
  • Child has to get a physical (for school or sports)
  • Colonoscopy (nobody wants to question that)
  • Death in the family (be careful not to use frequently)
  • Delivery (appliances or other major purchase)
  • Doctor or dentist appointment
  • Family emergency (you don't need to share details)
  • Family illness (child, elderly parent, other family member)
  • Furnace needs emergency repairs
  • Leaky pipes
  • Medical procedures
  • Medical tests
  • Migraine
  • Root canal
  • School closed
  • New baby in the family

Coming in Late or Leaving Early

You may need to come up with a different excuse if you're going to be late or want to leave work early. The best excuses for being late to work are simple and common – think weather or traffic. The best excuses for leaving early include professional pursuits, like networking events, or personal obligations, like volunteer work.

Tips for Giving an Excuse

As we’ve said, honesty is the best policy when it comes to giving excuses for getting out of work. However, if the reason you need a day off isn't acceptable for an excused absence, one of the reasons listed above may be one you can use.

Don’t go into an elaborate explanation – the longer the excuse, the more likely your employer is to think you are lying, and the less likely you will be able to remember it. Also, be sure to tell your boss about your absence as soon as possible.

If you know you'll need to take time off, mention it to your boss ASAP.

The best way to do this is by calling the office as soon as possible, or emailing your boss, especially if you’re calling in sick. If your company has a particular policy for calling in, be sure to follow those guidelines.

Worst Excuses for Missing Work

There are some reasons you should never give for calling in sick. An earlier survey from CareerBuilder listed some of the most absurd reasons for calling in, including the following:

  • The employee said the ozone in the air flattened his tires.
  • The employee’s pressure cooker had exploded and scared her sister, so she had to stay home.
  • The employee had to attend the funeral of his wife’s cousin’s pet because he was an uncle and pallbearer.
  • The employee was blocked in by police raiding her home.
  • The employee had to testify against a drug dealer, and the dealer’s friend mugged him.
  • The employee said her roots were showing, and she had to keep her hair appointment because she looked like a mess.
  • The employee ate cat food instead of tuna and was deathly ill.
  • The employee said she wasn’t sick, but her llama was.
  • The employee had used a hair remover under her arms and had chemical burns as a result. She couldn’t put her arms down by her sides due to that.
  • The employee was bowling the game of his life and couldn’t make it to work.
  • The employee was experiencing traumatic stress from a large spider found in her home. She had to stay home to deal with the spider.
  • The employee said he had better things to do.
  • The employee ate too much birthday cake.
  • The employee was bitten by a duck.

Write a Good Excuse Note or Email

Many companies require some kind of formal excuse note whenever you have an absence, such as a sick day or a vacation day.

Keep the note brief and professional. Review sample absence letters before you write your note. In the letter, state when and why you were off – or are planning to be. If you send a note ahead of your absence, include whether you have asked coworkers to take over any tasks.

While you might be tempted to go over your symptoms to prove you really were sick, ignore the urge and just be straightforward. Resist the urge to apologize, either for being sick or for the inconvenience.

Mention if/when you will be available. If you are sending your note in advance of your absence, it's a good idea to share if you will be available, and the best way to reach you. We live in a smartphone era, which means that many people are constantly checking email (even when they're sitting in a paper gown in the doctor's office). Specify if you will be checking your email, and how frequently. You might write, "I'll be checking my email occasionally" or "I'll be largely away from my email but do not hesitate to call me if there is an emergency."

Send your note promptly. If you are sending it the day of an absence, send the email in the morning, before the official start time at your company.

What Can Happen if You Get Caught in a Lie

Do keep in mind that, even if you use what you think is a good excuse, being dishonest can cost you your job if you're caught.

Don't think that your employer won't check up on you. There is always a chance that they will. CareerBuilder's survey reports that 38% of employers who responded have checked up on an employee to confirm their excuse for missing work. Some employers have asked to see a doctor’s note, and others have called the employee to check in on them. Some have even driven to the employee’s house.

Be Careful About Social Media

If you don’t tell your boss the truth, be very careful about using social media. According to CareerBuilder’s survey, 43% of employers surveyed have caught an employee lying about being sick by checking their social media. Double-check your privacy settings so you are aware of who can see what you post.

Even if you're careful about privacy though, don't post a status, message, or photo that contradicts what you told your boss. Your boss might not see it, but if you're friends with other people at work, it could easily get back to your manager if you're not out of the office for the reason you gave.

The Bottom Line

Honesty Is the Best Policy: If you don’t lie, you can’t get caught. Ask yourself if your real reason for being absent is sufficient.

Notify Your Manager Right Away: Call or email your boss ASAP and let them know that you’ll be out. Review company policy for requirements.

Don’t Give TMI: You don’t need to provide a lot of detail when making your excuse, especially if your reason is personal.

Stay Off Social Media: Especially if you do choose to stretch the truth, resist the urge to post during your absence. Even if your privacy settings are locked up, word may get out.