What Are the Most Outlandish Reasons an Employee Has Given for Missing Work?

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek October 11, 2019

​Employees say the darnedest things when it comes to explaining why they're late to work or not coming in at all. But whether it involves getting stuck in a tree, a pizza overdose or forgetting it was a regular workday, the excuses are nothing if not memorable.

Dana Case, director of operations at MyCorporation, still remembers the employee who said he missed work because he had to watch a soccer game that was being played in Europe. Then there was the person who didn't come in because he thought it was Saturday.

Some excuses gain legendary status and become part of an organization's lore or sound so unbelievable that the employee feels compelled to supply supporting evidence.

HR professionals have heard them all. SHRM Online collected the following wacky reasons employees have used to explain their lateness or no-shows.

"The funniest—and cutest—excuse I've ever heard from my employee is that he was helping a kitten get out of the tree and, of course, got stuck himself," said John Breese, founder and chief executive officer of HappySleepyhead, a Los Angeles-based company that reviews sleep-related products.

"They both had to wait for a rescue team to get them on the ground. Well, at least he sent me photos of the kitty."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Employee Attendance]

Another feline-related excuse came from an employee who told Breese that her cat had chewed the wire attached to her bedside clock. The timepiece stopped working, and she overslept.

"It wasn't the first time she used this excuse, so we all chipped in and bought her one of those cute, round, retro alarm clocks that don't have wires." 

Dane Kolbaba, co-founder and president of Watchdog Pest Control in Phoenix, had an employee who claimed that his doctor put him on bed rest after he ate too much pizza the previous night.

The worker had gotten a bad case of the munchies after smoking quite a bit of marijuana on a Sunday, Kolbaba explained. He ordered about 10 pizzas to share with a buddy but ended up eating alone.

"He got very sick and dehydrated … and had to stay home for a day or two and get better."

One of the craziest excuses Olga Mykhoparkina heard for calling in sick was from an intern who got food poisoning.

"The reason was that [he] had a bet with a friend and lost it," said the chief marketing officer for Chanty, a computer software company headquartered in New York City. "So [he] had to eat a couple of cans of dog food." It's a story still shared around the office. 

An employee at Messina Staffing Group in Chicago said he wasn't coming in because he forgot to do laundry and didn't have any clean clothes.

"It sounded like a joke. I thought he was kidding," said Ellen Mullarkey, vice president of business development. "But it turned out he was completely serious and didn't plan on coming in. Of all the excuses I've heard throughout the years, that was by far the strangest."

Timothy Wiedman was a district supervisor in the retail industry for 13 years and often worked with part-time employees, many of whom were young women handling the early shift while their children were in school. 

One young mother provided a memorable excuse for missing work.

"She'd just gotten an appointment to see Dr. So-and-So. Since she sounded OK over the phone, I assumed that one of her kids was sick and I told her I'd find a substitute for her shift," Wiedman said.

When she returned to work the next day, he asked if her child was feeling better. She replied that her children rarely got sick. Turns out the doctor was a vet. She had to take her pet ferret to the clinic because he seemed lethargic. The vet never did find anything wrong with the woman's pet, Wiedman added.

An employee at the Lucas Group, a Houston-based accounting and finance firm, failed to show up for multiple days and wasn't calling in to explain his absence. 

"So I had one of my managers text him and ask if everything was OK, as we were obviously worried about him," said Bob Prather, the company's general manager. 

"We got a text back from his phone number saying, 'This is his mother texting from his phone. He has unexpectedly passed away.' As it turned out, he was alive! Needless to say, that was our last communication with that employee."



Hire the best HR talent or advance your own career.

Are you a department of one?

Expand your toolbox with the tools and techniques needed to fix your organization’s unique needs.

Expand your toolbox with the tools and techniques needed to fix your organization’s unique needs.



HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.