Best and Worst Excuses for Being Late to Work

Excuses for being late for work

The Balance

Sometimes, you just can’t help being late for work. Stuff happens, things go wrong, and it can be hard to get out of the house to arrive at work in a timely manner. It happens to almost everyone at one time or another, so be prepared to handle it appropriately. Depending on your manager, it might not matter—or it could be a big deal.

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.

Even if you’ve run out of excuses, there are some reasons that you shouldn’t use when you’re telling your boss why you’re running late.

Best Excuses for Being Late to Work

A survey conducted by CareerBuilder finds that some excuses for missing work are more popular than others. Traffic, sleep schedules, and weather conditions are the top three. Being tired and forgetful round out the top five reasons for being tardy.

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

Other excuses that work well include having an appointment, a sick child, a school delay, car trouble, mass transit delays, a family emergency or illness, house problems, or waiting for a service person for repairs.

Don’t Use These Strange Excuses

There were also some strange excuses in the latest survey. Even though they are creative, these excuses probably won’t work with your boss or manager.

  • It’s too cold to work.
  • I had morning sickness. (This was from a male employee.)
  • 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 fell asleep in the parking lot.
  • My fake eyelashes were stuck together.
  • I forgot I did not work at my former employer’s location and drove there by accident. (Note: the employee had worked for their current employer for five years.)

More Bizarre Excuses to Avoid

Other excuses reported in an earlier survey were as equally weird:

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

What to Do When Excuses Don't Work

Even though you think it might be acceptable to be late once in a while, your boss might not agree. At some point, you may run out of reasonable excuses to use.

The majority of employers (60%) say they expect employees to be on time every day, and 43% have fired someone for being late, up from 41% the previous year.

If you’re late on a regular basis, figure out how you can change your morning routine so you can make it to work on time. It could be as simple as showering at night instead of in the morning, getting up 15 minutes earlier, taking a train that’s a few minutes earlier than you usually do, or packing your lunch the evening before.

Tips for Giving Excuses When You're Running Late

If you have run out of excuses, think twice before you decide to get creative. Keep in mind the following advice about giving excuses for missing work:

Let your boss know ASAP: If you know in advance that you will need to take a personal day, 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 they are lying. Therefore, if you can, be honest about why you are missing work or coming in late.

Don’t overshare: 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.

While honesty is often the best policy, always keep your excuse simple, and don’t go into detail.

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 excuse yourself from work only when absolutely necessary—otherwise, your employer and co-workers may consider you 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 toward the end of the day, so you are still at work for a solid few hours. If you need to leave early, here are some excuses to use—and not to use. Whenever possible, try to come in early or stay late to make up for the lost time.