21 legit excuses for being late to work (and 22 to avoid)

Updated on August 2, 2023
Excuses for being late to work

Being late to work is a sure sign that your workday is not starting in an ideal way. But these things happen every now and then. 

There are excuses for being late to work that are perfectly reasonable, such as a family emergency or injury.

You will be forgiven by your boss and colleagues if you are dealing with something that is a genuine hardship, especially if you had a good track record at work. 

Whether it is our own fault or just bad circumstances, nothing can be done about it unless you have a time machine. But we are just human and we all make mistakes. And sometimes the odds are against us.

So it is time to forgive yourself – or to accept the unfavorable circumstances that caused your lateness – and move towards handling the situation.

Best excuses for being late to work

Reasons to be late to work that are acceptable

Here are at least 21 good reasons for being late to work that are perfectly acceptable and every boss or manager in their right mind would forgive:

1. Medical emergency

A sudden illness or injury that required immediate attention can be a valid excuse. This would be hard to predict or control and would understandably cause you to be late.

2. Family emergency

An unexpected event involving a close family member, such as an accident or severe illness, would require your immediate presence, causing lateness.

3. Traffic accident

Accidents can cause unexpected delays in your long commute to work, especially if they involve multiple vehicles or road closures.

4. Car breakdown

If your vehicle experiences mechanical issues, it can be impossible to get to work on time. This is an unforeseen circumstance that could happen to anyone.

5. Public transportation delays

When trains, buses, or other public transportation experience delays or cancellations, it can be difficult to find an alternate route quickly.

6. Inclement weather

Severe weather conditions, such as heavy rain, snow, or storms, can create dangerous driving conditions, making it unsafe to travel.

7. Road closures

Unexpected road closures due to construction or other events can force you to find an alternate route, which might take longer.

8. Power outage

A power outage at your home can cause one of your home appliances to malfunction which can lead to an emergency situation.

9. Medical appointment

Scheduled appointments with healthcare professionals can sometimes run longer than anticipated, causing you to be late.

10. Childcare issues

If your child gets sick or has a last-minute issue at school or daycare, you may need to find alternate care, which could delay your arrival at work.

11. Jury duty

Being summoned for jury duty is a civic responsibility and can cause unexpected absences or tardiness.

12. Witnessing an accident

If you witness an accident or crime, you may need to stay at the scene until authorities arrive, which could make you late.

13. Unexpected caregiving duties

If you suddenly need to provide care for an elderly or disabled family member, this can lead to lateness.

14. Lost keys

Misplacing your keys can cause delays in leaving your home, and searching for them might make you late.

15. Sick pet

If your pet becomes suddenly ill and requires immediate veterinary care, it's understandable that you might be late to work.

16. Gas leak or fire

An emergency at home, such as a gas leak or fire, can make it impossible to leave on time.

17. Flat tire

A flat tire or other tire-related issue can cause delays as you'll need to change or repair it before continuing your commute.

18. Lockout

Getting locked out of your car or home can result in waiting for assistance, leading to tardiness.

19. Car accident

If you're involved in a car accident on your way to work, you'll need to exchange information and possibly wait for the police, making you late.

20. School delay/closure

If your child's school is delayed or closed unexpectedly, you'll need to find alternate care, which can cause delays in getting to work.

21. Late-night emergency

An emergency during the night, such as attending to a sick child or dealing with a break-in, can lead to insufficient sleep, making it difficult to wake up on time.

Worst excuses for being late to work

Worst excuses for being late to work

While some reasons to be late to work are perfectly acceptable and will be forgiven by an understanding manager and colleagues, there are excuses that will be frowned upon.

(If you are new to a job, being chronically late for work without a respectable excuse can be grounds for failing your probation and eventual termination. So adjust your lifestyle to go to work at the appropriate time.)

Anything that puts your comfort before being on time can be considered a poor excuse. Here are some of the best examples.

1. Overslept

Simply oversleeping due to a lack of discipline or failing to set an alarm is not a respectable excuse, as it shows poor time management.

2. Hungover

Arriving late because of a hangover implies irresponsible behavior and a lack of professionalism, as it results from personal choices.

3. Watching TV or playing video games

Choosing to watch TV or play video games instead of getting ready for work demonstrates a lack of prioritization and commitment to your job.

4. Personal grooming issues

Taking too long on grooming activities, like styling your hair or applying makeup, shows poor time management and is not a valid reason for tardiness.

5. Deciding what to wear

Spending excessive time choosing an outfit and being late as a result may reflect indecisiveness and poor time management.

6. Procrastination

Waiting until the last minute to complete personal tasks or chores before leaving for work indicates poor planning and is not a respectable reason to be late.

7. Lost track of time

Losing track of time while browsing social media or engaging in other distractions is not a valid excuse, as it shows a lack of focus and responsibility.

8. Running errands

Running personal errands that could have been completed outside of work hours demonstrates poor planning and is not a justifiable reason for being late.

9. Picking up coffee or breakfast

Making a stop for coffee or breakfast on your way to work, knowing it may cause you to be late, is not a responsible choice.

10. Misplacing work clothes

Failing to have your work attire ready and searching for it in the morning is not a valid excuse, as it reflects poor organization skills.

12. Forgetting your work badge or keys

Neglecting to bring necessary items for work, such as your badge or keys, implies carelessness and a lack of attention to detail.

12. Hitting the snooze button

Repeatedly hitting the snooze button on your alarm shows a lack of discipline and commitment to punctuality.

13. Late-night socializing

Staying out late with friends or attending events during weeknights, knowing it may impact your ability to arrive at work on time, is irresponsible.

14. Not checking the weather

Failing to check the weather forecast and prepare for any potential delays due to weather conditions shows a lack of foresight and planning.

15. Procrastinating on filling up your car with gas

Waiting until the last minute to fill up your car with gas, causing you to be late, demonstrates poor planning.

16. Not setting multiple alarms

Relying on a single alarm and not having backup measures to ensure you wake up on time is a sign of poor preparation.

17. Overscheduling personal appointments

Scheduling too many personal appointments before work, causing delays, is a sign of poor time management.

18. Waiting for a package delivery

Waiting for a non-urgent package delivery before leaving for work is not a respectable reason for tardiness, as it shows a lack of prioritization.

19. Finishing a book or movie

Choosing to finish a book or movie instead of leaving for work on time demonstrates poor decision-making and prioritization.

20. Taking a long shower

Taking an excessively long shower when you should be getting ready for work is not a valid excuse for being late, as it reflects poor time management.

21. Not planning for traffic

Failing to account for potential traffic delays and not leaving early enough to accommodate them shows a lack of foresight and planning.

22. Ignoring your alarm

Intentionally ignoring your alarm or dismissing it without getting up is not a valid excuse for being late, as it demonstrates a lack of discipline and commitment to punctuality.

How to handle being late to work

How to handle being late to work

So, it looks like you will be late for work today for whatever reason.

Or worse, you are already late when you should have been at the office 40 minutes ago because, say, you had an important meeting.

Now what? Well, here are 6 simple things that you can do to mitigate the situation.

1. Inform your boss and coworkers as soon as you can

Text the people you work with as soon as possible. Let them know that you will be late.

This way they won’t be wondering what is going on and they will be able to adjust things on their end in case your presence there was required.

2. Give a good reason but don’t go into too much detail

It would be best to share why you are being late. Be honest, tell them what happened, and apologize. But keep it light, there is no need to go into details. Just give one general reason, that will suffice.

3. Give your best estimate of when you will arrive

Consider your circumstances and, if possible, tell your boss and your colleagues when you will arrive at the office.

This way they will know that you will be coming after all and maybe you will be able to amend the situation.

4. Let them know you will compensate

Assure your superiors and your colleagues that you will do what was required of you or that you will compensate for being late. Maybe you can stay an hour or two extra that day? Adjust according to your circumstances.

5. Make sure to apologize

It goes without saying that an apology is due. There is no need to apologize profusely but make sure to do so.

Apologize to your boss or your direct manager, and make sure to apologize to your coworkers as well. Especially those that rely on you the most at work.

6. Get to your duties immediately when you arrive

When you finally get to the office, make sure your boss and your colleagues are aware that you arrived. If necessary, apologize in person to whoever suffered most from your lateness. Then get to work.

This way you will show everyone else that you truly care about your work and you won’t let being late for work stop you from doing your most important tasks for the day.

And in case you missed a work meeting, then here is how to apologize and ask for an update from your coworkers.

How to explain you overslept for work

How to explain you overslept for work

Maybe you had one too many drinks last night with your friends. Or maybe you thought it was Saturday so you didn’t set an alarm.

Now you are 2 hours late for work with no good excuses. I am not ashamed to admit that this has happened to me. More than once.

But I believe in honesty, transparency, forgiveness, and atonement.

So my advice to you is this: don’t ponder over last-minute excuses to be late to work. Be honest instead.

Just text your boss and colleagues, tell the truth, apologize, down a mug of coffee, and get to the office to do some good work.

Employers and managers are willing to forgive a lot when you are a reliable person who does great work. So do your best to express remorse and compensate by being productive.

Of course, do your best not to be chronically late for work (especially if you are new to the job) because this may give your boss and coworkers a bad impression of you.

My experience of occasionally being late to work

As an experienced project manager at a leading international tech company, I've always prided myself on my ability to manage time effectively and juggle multiple tasks simultaneously.

I've built a reputation for delivering high-quality results, meeting deadlines, and collaborating well with my colleagues.

However, despite my best efforts, there are occasions when life throws curveballs, and I find myself running late to work due to unforeseen circumstances outside of my control.

One such morning, I received a frantic call from a close friend who had fallen severely ill and needed immediate assistance.

Since they lived alone and had no family nearby, it was crucial for me to help them during this critical time.

Knowing the importance of being there for my friend, I had no choice but to attend to their needs before heading to the office.

As soon as I realized I would be late, I reached out to my boss and coworkers to inform them of the situation. I have always believed that honesty and transparent communication are key to building trust within a team.

So, instead of making up an excuse, I explained the real reason for my delay and reassured them that I would arrive as soon as possible.

Much to my relief, my colleagues were understanding and supportive. They knew that I always strive to be punctual and that I wouldn't let them down unless it was absolutely necessary.

They trusted me to handle the emergency and appreciated my honest communication.

In the end, I managed to take care of my friend and catch up on the work I missed, thanks to the support and understanding of my team.

Frequently asked questions about being late to work

How can I improve my punctuality and avoid being late?

Improving your punctuality starts with planning and organizing your daily routine. Begin by preparing for the next day the night before – lay out your work attire, pack your bag, and gather any necessary items. Establish a consistent morning routine that allows you enough time to get ready without feeling rushed. Set multiple alarms or use backup methods to ensure you wake up on time, and consider setting your clocks a few minutes ahead to give yourself a buffer. To account for any unexpected delays, like traffic or last-minute emergencies, leave for work a little earlier than necessary.

Are there any legal consequences for consistently being late to work?

While occasional tardiness is generally tolerated, consistently being late to work may lead to legal consequences, depending on your employer's policies and local labor laws. In some cases, employers can take disciplinary action, such as issuing warnings, docking pay, or even terminating employment.

How does being late to work affect my job performance and professional reputation?

Being late to work can have a significant impact on both your job performance and professional reputation. Frequent tardiness may be perceived as a lack of commitment, responsibility, or professionalism, which could hinder your career growth and advancement opportunities. Additionally, your job performance may suffer due to missed deadlines, incomplete tasks, or disrupted teamwork caused by your absence. By arriving late, you may also inadvertently burden your colleagues, who may have to cover for you or adjust their schedules to accommodate your delays, potentially straining workplace relationships.

Can my employer take disciplinary action if I'm frequently late to work?

Yes, employers can take disciplinary action against employees who are frequently late to work. The specific actions may vary depending on company policies and local labor laws, but common measures include verbal or written warnings, performance improvement plans, docking pay, or even termination in extreme cases. It's crucial to understand your company's expectations and policies regarding punctuality to avoid any negative consequences. If you're struggling with punctuality, consider discussing the issue with your manager or HR representative to develop strategies to improve your timeliness and maintain a positive work environment.

Written by:
Office Topics Logo 2 White
galin office topics square
co-founder / office worker
Alex has been an office worker for more than 10 years. He is dedicated to helping other office workers to achieve the perfect life-work balance through well-being, effective communication, and building productive habits.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Related Office Topics

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram