Bizarre Late-to-Work Excuses Are More Common Than You Think

These excuses for being late or missing work are entertaining—but not effective

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek April 12, 2018
Bizarre Late-to-Work Excuses Are More Common Than You Think

Slipping in to work late is never a good idea, but some people are more creative in rationalizing their tardiness, like the employee who explained she was celebrating her dog's birthday.

"The excuse was so bizarre that any natural questioning—such as why not hold the party after work—was disregarded," recalled Nate Masterson, marketing manager at Maple Holistics, a Farmingdale, N.J.-based provider of natural beauty products. "I think everyone just wanted to pretend that it hadn't happened."

Then there was the woman, laden with homemade pies, whose crummy excuse was that it was National Pi Day.

"Apparently, she felt that the 'pie-day' recognition outweighed the importance of coming to work on time, an opinion that her superior swiftly disagreed with," Masterson said.

If only she had Robert Barrows' former boss as a supervisor. Barrows, president of R.M. Barrows Advertising & Public Relations in Burlingame, Calif., once worked for a man who demanded a good story from anyone who was late to work.

"Don't just tell him you were stuck in traffic. Don't just tell him your alarm clock didn't go off. Tell him a good story about what you did last night, and be sure to include all the vivid details," Barrows said.

His boss might have been entertained by the following excuses readers recently shared with SHRM Online:

  • I had to bail my girlfriend out of jail.
  • I had to get my dog neutered.
  • I rode in the wrong direction on the subway.
  • I'm getting my carpets stretched.
  • I had to have my dog re-neutered because it didn't take the first time.
  • My boyfriend wasn't in bed when I woke up. 
  • A police officer was following me all the way to work so I had to drive slower than normal.
  • I had to watch a soccer game being played in Europe.
  • I was wearing shorts and had to go home to change.
  • My pants split on the way to work.
  • I thought it was Saturday. 
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About 25 percent of respondents to a survey that CareerBuilder commissioned have been late to work at least once a month. The survey was conducted Nov. 28-Dec. 20 with 1,014 hiring and human resource managers and 888 workers in the U.S. Those ages 18-34 and workers in the western U.S. were more likely to trail in past their reporting time, it found.

Some excuses cross the border into too-much-information land, like the woman who claimed that she was ovulating and had more pressing concerns than clocking in on time. She said she and her husband were "desperately trying to have a baby," recalled Dr. Jacqueline Darna, CEO and inventor of the NoMo Nausea Band in Tampa, Fla.

"She also told me that her husband got out of a speeding ticket last month because he, too, told the cop they were undergoing in vitro fertilization, and he needed to hurry home to make a baby. The excuse actually worked for both cop and boss because neither one of us was comfortable enough to say that wasn't a valid excuse."

Even wackier, one worker explained he was late—yes, he—because of morning sickness, according to CareerBuilder. It collected some other doozies of excuses as well, like the woman who explained she was late because her false eyelashes had stuck together.

Being late also can torpedo a job offer.

A candidate once told Richard Laermer, CEO of RLM Public Relations in New York City, that her ferret had eaten the writing test the company had given her, and she had to rewrite it before coming in.

" 'Well, that's an excuse I've never heard before,' " Laermer said he told her. " 'See ya.' "

Last Straw  

Traffic, oversleeping, bad weather, forgetfulness or being too tired to get up in time for work are typical reasons people give for straggling in late, but sometimes employees give even a routine excuse their own strange twist.

Lori Cheek, founder and CEO of mobile dating app Cheekd, had an intern from the Netherlands who was more than two and a half hours late to her company's New York City office. His excuse: It was raining.

"He said he was trying to get there the whole two and a half hours and spent most of it under scaffoldings waiting for [the weather] to calm down a bit so he could hop to the next scaffolding. I asked if they had umbrellas in the Netherlands. He said of course, but he was against them. I really couldn't even respond. It was his last day on the job with us," Cheek said. "It wasn't the first bizarre thing he'd done with us, but it was the last straw."

Sixty percent of employers expect employees to be on time, and 43 percent have fired someone for not meeting that expectation, according to CareerBuilder. Job loss is a no-brainer when an excuse doesn't jibe with eyewitness accounts to the contrary.

Years ago, Charles Catania III, principal consultant at Branding With Chuck in Vernon, Conn., had an employee who was hours late because she said a squirrel had babies in her attic, and she had to wait for a wildlife officer to come to her home to remove them.

The problem? Instead of being at home, Catania said the employee was spotted at a networking group where she was pitching her new consulting gig. The employee ended up getting pitched out of her job instead.

And sometimes workers feel justified in coming in later than expected, like the man who told Laermer he was not paid enough to be on time.

" 'I really don't like this whole 9 o'clock thing,' " Laermer recalled him saying. "I said, 'OK. Good to know. Can you leave now?' "


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