Best and Worst Excuses for Being Late to Work

Mother running late and tying son's shoes
••• Sean Justice / The Image Bank / Getty Images

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 - 39%
  • Lack of sleep - 19%
  • Problems with transportation - 8%
  • Bad weather - 7%
  • Getting kids to school or daycare - 6%

Bizarre Excuses

Other excuses reported in the survey were more creative, to put it nicely:

  • 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

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 coworkers 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. And whenever possible, try to come in early or stay late to make up for the lost time.

Need to Apologize?

If you need to apologize for being late to work, here's an example of a letter apologizing for tardiness.

Read More: Time Off to Interview | Absence Excuse Letters | Excuses for Missing Work Letters | Work Excuses