Stranded in Skivvies, Feline Hiccups Among Kooky Tardiness Excuses

By Kathy Gurchiek Jan 17, 2012
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Gridlock, oversleeping, bad weather—they are the top reasons for schlepping in late to work, according to a CareerBuilder survey released Jan. 12, 2012. But like the worker who claimed that a fox stole her car keys, some excuses deserve a call-out for their sheer bizarre nature.

Among the most memorable excuses unearthed in its online survey conducted in November and December 2011 with 3,023 full-time hiring managers and HR professionals:

  • Employee thought she had won the lottery. Didn’t happen.
  • Employee’s cat had the hic-hic-hiccups.
  • Employee became distracted watching the “Today” show and lost track of time.
  • Employee’s angry roommate cut the cord of his phone charger; because his phone was inoperable, his phone alarm did not work.
  • Employee believed that his commute time should count toward his work hours.
  • Employee’s leg was trapped between the subway car and the platform.
  • Employee maintained he was not late because he had no intention of arriving at work before 9 a.m. His start time was 8 a.m.
  • Employee was late because he was interviewing for a job at another firm.
  • Employee was taking a personal call from the governor.
  • Employee’s car keys were stolen—by a fox.

Sally Morrison, one of the owners and managers of Sound Beach Music in New York state, shared some of her favorite employee excuses with SHRM Online:

  • An employee was in the shower and lost track of time because he was deep in thought.
  • An employee was awakened by a noise on the roof, grabbed a BB gun to do battle with what he thought was a squirrel, and went out in his boxer shorts. The door to his place locked behind him, stranding him.
  • An employee had to do laundry after spilling coffee on his one pair of clean pants.

Bettina Seidman, who once worked in HR at a large New York City medical center, still shakes her head over an excuse she received from two nurses who arrived at work two days late.

They explained that while in Ireland visiting a friend’s family, the friend’s mother became ill.

“They felt they should stay and help out because of the wonderful hospitality they had experienced. They never called or sent a message; they just showed up two days late,” Seidman said.

They were suspended without pay for a week.

The CareerBuilder survey found that 27 percent of 7,780 U.S. workers included in its survey arrive late to work at least once a month. Sixteen percent arrive late to work once a week or more.

Excessive tardiness can have serious consequences. Thirty-four percent of employers in the CareerBuilder survey have terminated an employee for being late.

Jean Fritz, whose responsibilities included HR when she worked at JMT Publications in Indiana, recalled the press operator who called to say he would be late to work because it was raining.

“This would not be completely outrageous if not for the fact that the other [press] operators lived further away and were forced to drive through some blinding thunderstorm activity, [and] I lived over 35 miles from work and drove an average speed of 45 mph on the interstate to get there on time,” Fritz said.

“This employee took public transportation and objected to standing in the rain with an umbrella to wait for the bus—he wouldn’t look cool, you know, carrying one.”

It was one of many incidents with this employee, whose productivity “was less than acceptable,” Fritz said. Shortly after the employee’s rain delay, the man was fired.

“We hear so much stuff that it is hard to believe,” said Kathi Elster of K Squared Enterprises in New York City and co-author of the New York Times best-seller, Working with You is Killing Me (Business Plus, 2007) and Working for You Isn’t Working for Me (Portfolio Hardcover, 2009).

“If we tried to make it up, it would not be as funny as the truth.”

The Dog Ate My Excuse

Her favorite employee excuses include the one from the woman who was late because her dog ran away while she was taking it on a walk and the worker who was trapped inside his/her apartment and had to wait for a locksmith to repair the broken lock.

But while kooky explanations might be amusing, they could signal an employee who kicks into excuse mode when the going gets tough, according to Carol Quinn, an expert on hiring high achievers and a scheduled presenter at the 2012 Society for Human Resource Management Annual Conference & Exposition in Atlanta.

Quinn is founder of Florida-based Hire Authority, which offers motivation-based interviewing products and services. “We all know it takes more than just a person’s skill level to achieve great success,” she told SHRM Online. “Oddly, however, it’s what most interviewers base their sole hiring decisions on” and gives a one-dimensional picture of the job applicant.

Attitude, which Quinn defines as how a person responds when difficulties arise, is critical.

“Not everyone kicks into high gear or goes into problem-solving mode” when things go wrong, she noted.

“If you’ve ever paid close attention to an excuse, every one of them has something in common: Its purpose is to take responsibility off the person and place it elsewhere,” such as blaming the dog for eating the homework.

“People who make fewer excuses take ownership and learn from their setbacks and failure,” she said.

“The more you can learn about an applicant’s predominant response to dealing with difficulty, the fewer excuse-makers you will extend job offers to and the fewer excuses [you are] ultimately going to have to deal with.”

Sometimes, though, nutty but true excuses can bring a much-needed laugh to those around them. Just ask Bonnie Russell, who because of road construction-related detours once arrived very, very late at the large firm where she worked.

“When I arrived with the announcement ‘Sorry I’m late. I took a shortcut,’ the entire room burst out laughing.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.

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