10 excuses for being late to work

It happens to everyone at some point—time slips away from you, and all of a sudden you’re late for work. You’ll need an explanation.

10 excuses for being late to work

Chronic tardiness may be a sign of job dissatisfaction.

We've all been late to work. It happens to everyone at some point. Usually, it's OK. People understand. But every once in a while, your boss will want an explanation. 

Most of the time when people are late, the excuses are pretty common:

  1. I overslept.
  2. I had to get the children to school first.
  3. My cat has gone missing.
  4. I got stuck in traffic.
  5. The bus broke down.

As a consultant and founder of the Interview Expert Academy, Jonathan Burston says he has heard a lot of excuses over the years, but warns that your reputation at work can dictate whether you get the benefit of the doubt when offering up a unique explanation. “Whether someone is believed or not depends on who they are as a person, and their general work ethic and past experience.”

But sometimes the story gets so strange it can make it harder to believe.

  1. I’m running late because I spent the night in urgent care after being beaten up and stabbed. “Yes, this was an excuse used by someone on my team,” Burston says.
  2. I’ll be late because I fell asleep on the train home and missed my stop, only to wake up three hours further down the track and not able to get back the same evening. This employee had been very drunk the night before, Burston says. And the employee used that excuse not once, but twice.
  3. I tried to cut my own hair and made a horrible mess of it, so I had to find a salon that was open and could fit me in to fix it.
  4. My children locked me out of the house and wouldn’t let me in. I had to call a locksmith and get him to open the door, so I could retrieve the keys, get the children to school, and then come to work.
  5. “I was late because there was police activity and they made us stay in the house so I couldn't leave.” This one came from a CFO, says Kimberly Mecklenburg, CEO of LifeLabNetworks and Mecklenburg Media. “Everyone at the meeting believed her but she forgot that there are so many apps about traffic and incidents and I couldn't help but check it out,” Mecklenburg says. “No police activity anywhere near her, but inspired creativity on her part.”

Is honesty the best policy?

Everybody’s human and makes mistakes, so own up to yours and move on, says Sheila Dramis, CEO of HR Partners. “If you are late, be honest. Did you oversleep, forget to set the alarm, kids made you run late? Integrity is what every company wants. When you lie, you break that trust and that will upset an employer even more.”

It’s important to apologize as well, says Dramis. “Acknowledge that you understand it sets a bad example, impacts the team, and that you are taking steps to correct it. This is better than spewing out excuses. Your manager wants to know you understand the implications and are taking steps to change.”

Besides, chronic lateness can end up hurting you in the long run. “At some point the business will decide they have to move on without you,” she says.

Does the reason even matter?

Maria Katrien Heslin, owner of GPS to Success Coaching & Development, says she’s heard a lot of excuses why people are late to work, “from menstrual cramps and oversleeping to carpool problems and car trouble. To me, the reason is not important because sometimes completely legitimate reasons are also private, personal matters while silly reasons may cause an employee to lie.”

Heslin says she’d rather not know the reason and instead focus on whether the lateness is a chronic issue. “That has proven to be a respectful and effective method.”

Wait, why are you late—really?

Maybe the real reason you're running late every morning is because you're reluctant to go to work. It may be time to find a new job rather than a new excuse for your tardiness. Could you use help getting started? Join Monster today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to different types of jobs you're looking for. Recruiters search Monster every day hoping to fill top jobs with qualified candidates. Frankly, you've got no excuse not to.