Good (and Bad) Excuses to Leave Work Early

Person leaving work
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Employees are human beings with obligations that can’t always be controlled or relegated to weekends and non-working hours. In most cases, a reasonable supervisor will understand and grant an employee's request to leave work early or to come in late, provided the excuse is legitimate, important, or urgent. 

Factors That Help (or Hurt) Your Chances of Leaving Early

Typically, it's not a big deal to get out of work early once in a while. But some circumstances can make it easier—or harder—to get your manager's approval.

Organizational culture, your relationship with your supervisor, and your work history in terms of attendance and punctuality will all impact how your employer will perceive an early departure. For example, some employers expect workers to report early and stay late in the office to prove their dedication, while others encourage employees to maintain their well-being and keep a healthy work-life balance.

In general, employees whose supervisors and colleagues view them as dedicated are more likely to be treated favorably in the workplace and, in some cases, are more likely to get special privileges.

Company policy may provide for excused absences for part of the workday. If you're not sure how much time off you're eligible to take for partial day absences, check with your employee handbook, supervisor, or Human Resources department.

Employees who skip work, arrive late, or leave early without a solid reason will likely have trouble getting their requests approved. Here’s a guide to how to leave work early without your request impacting your standing as an employee.

© The Balance, 2018

Tips for Asking Your Supervisor

How you ask to leave work early will also influence how your request is received. The best approach in many situations is to frame your action as a request as opposed to simply informing your supervisor that you will be leaving early. You're more likely to get a positive response if you ask rather than tell.

It will be helpful if you mention how your work will be covered during your absence, such as by a colleague fielding any inquiries.

Providing an update on any projects with impending deadlines can also reassure supervisors that your absence will have minimal impact. If relevant, mention how you will make up the time by working at home or that you plan to come in early.

Depending on your supervisor's personality, it can also help to include how this will benefit your performance in the long run. For example, “If I take care of this dentist appointment now, I won’t have to deal with it when we’re busy with that big project next month.”

Be mindful of when you’re asking to leave early. If it’s a slow week, your request is more likely to be granted. Try to avoid asking to leave work early when your supervisor or team is stressed, overworked, or busy with an important project. If you need to provide an email or note documenting your absence, here are sample email message and letters you can use.

Good Reasons for Leaving Work Early

Although there are both legitimate and illegitimate excuses to leave work early, remember that your employer’s response will likely depend more on your standing as an employee than on the reason you provide.

The more often you attempt to leave early, the more difficult it will be to do so without criticism, whether or not your reasons are valid. Ultimately, you should be honest about why you want or need to leave early.

Although it depends on your company’s culture, as long as you are in good standing and your supervisor is a rational, empathetic person, he or she will understand the situation and grant a request to leave early now and then. Here are some commonly accepted reasons to leave work early:

  • Religious obligations or community-related work, such as volunteering at an event offered by a local non-profit community organization (especially if your organization encourages volunteerism).
  • Business networking activities, including participating in the local chamber of commerce meetings, or attending industry events or conventions (particularly if networking with potential business partners is valued by your employer).
  • Client-related obligations, such as traveling to a client assignment that will take place early the next day, or going on an outing with an important client.
  • Professional development pursuits, such as attending a workshop or leaving early for a class or to work on a group project for a course that your supervisor has encouraged you to take.
  • Productivity-related requests, including taking your work to a nearby coffee shop or library to focus, or leaving early (when work is complete) after staying in the office very late the night before.
  • Employment-related activities, such as a job interview if you have been notified of a future layoff at your current employer.
  • Family obligations, including sudden illness, accident or death, or if you need to pick up a child if the school has closed early or if the child issick. In some workplaces, you may also be able to leave early to take your child (or pet) to the doctor (or veterinarian). Only you can judge your supervisor’s flexibility and understanding.
  • Personal reasons: Illness, for example, or a condition such as severe cramps, migraine, an allergic reaction, or a dental emergency such a root canal or a toothache. Doctor’s appointments or medical tests can also be valid reasons to leave the office before closing time. In general, though, you should aim to schedule these outside of business hours if possible. (If you do need to leave work early for a medical appointment, it may be beneficial to note that you attempted to schedule the appointment before or after work, or during your lunch hour, but that no appointments were available.)
  • Urgent or important home or finance issues, including a meeting with a mortgage counselor, attending the closing for the purchase of a new home, emergency problems at your home such as a burst pipe, broken furnace, fire or break-in, or the delivery of furniture, appliances, or some other item that requires a signature and that must take place during business hours.

Bad Reasons for Leaving Work Early

Again, whether or not your boss grants your request to leave early very much depends on how he or she perceives you as an employee. For example, do you put in 100% effort 100% of the time? If the answer is essentially “yes,” then the best reason to leave early is an honest reason. That being said, there are certainly some bad reasons to provide as an explanation for why you would like to leave early.

These reasons include:

  • Feeling bored or not having enough to do. You'll get extra credit if you ask to take on more work when you're all caught up.
  • Being hungover. Leaving because you’re sick is one thing, but don’t expect to get much sympathy for a condition you brought on yourself.
  • Going to hang out with friends. Even if your best buddy is coming into town, if you need to leave for an optional recreational activity, in most companies you would need to take a formal personal day for this.
  • Going on an interview for a new job (unless you have been laid off).
  • Receiving bad news at work. For example, if you are unhappy with the notice about next year's diminished salary increase, if you received a less-than-stellar performance review, or if your supervisor just criticized your project, be a team player and get through the rest of the day, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.
  • Feeling overwhelmed or stressed out. You don’t want to make it seem like you can’t handle stress. If you find that you can’t focus at your desk, request to book a meeting room to yourself for an hour, or ask if you can take your work to a nearby coffee shop.
  • Going to a recreational activity. Whether you have a softball game after work or you booked a yoga class—unless it is a company-sponsored event—in most cases, it is not acceptable to leave work early for these reasons.
  • Minor personal issues, such as a fight with a friend or a break-up with the girlfriend you’ve been dating for only two weeks.
  • Non-urgent errands that can be dealt with outside of work, like a hair appointment, getting your oil changed, grocery shopping, or rushing out to go to the bank, when it could be done online or during the weekend.

    Don’t take advantage of your boss’s flexibility. Although there are both good and bad reasons to leave early, even a good reason used too many times can quickly become problematic. If you foresee a legitimate, unavoidable event that will cause you to leave work repeatedly (for example, a physical therapy appointment that repeats over the course of a month, a child’s recurring doctor’s appointment, and so on), then you should be upfront with your boss and prepare a plan to ensure your work is covered.

    Stick to the Facts

    The worst reason to leave early is a fake one. Your credibility (and your ability to leave work early) will not fare well if you’re caught in a lie. Even if you think you’ve covered your tracks, it’s not worth risking the trust of your supervisor and your fellow employees.

    With many people posting almost everything they do on social media, it's easy to get caught. Posting that you had a great time at a ball game or at the beach, for example, when you told your boss you were leaving because you felt ill won't go over too well. Check your privacy settings to manage who views your posts.

    Strive to do your best, take care to maintain a positive relationship with your supervisors, and be honest when something requires your presence during work hours.

    Ultimately, the best way to make sure you’re able to leave work early when you need to is to only make this request when it is valid or necessary.

    The Bottom Line

    OCCASIONAL REQUESTS TO START LATE OR LEAVE EARLY ARE TYPICALLY GRANTED: Keep in mind that several factors—including how busy it is at work, the company culture, and your relationship with your manager—can determine if your request is granted. 

    SHARE A REASON—AND CHOOSE WISELY: Let your manager know why you want or need to leave early. Make sure you're leaving for legitimate reasons, and never lie about the situation. 

    ASK, DON'T DEMAND, TO LEAVE: Your manager will respond better to a request than to a demand.