11 steps to tell your boss you can't work today

Updated on August 9, 2023
How to tell your boss you can't work today

Here I am at home, not feeling well or dealing with a sudden emergency, and I am thinking about two things: how to cope with the situation, and how to tell my boss that I won’t be coming to work today. Sounds familiar?

The best advice that I can give you when you are about to tell your boss that you won’t be working today is this: be honest. Plainly explain what you are dealing with and why it is preventing you from showing up at work.

Honesty, openness, and trust are essential components of a harmonious work environment. That is why the best way to go about this situation is to tell your boss the truth.

And here’s the thing, bosses and managers are human, too. You should have every expectation to be excused and forgiven if you have not broken the trust between you and your boss before.

So if you can’t work today, I have prepared for you some useful tips on how to minimize the impact so let’s look into it.

How to tell your boss you can't come to work today

Tips on how to tell your boss you can't come to work today

If you can't go to work today because you are dealing with something important or urgent, then here is what you can do to minimize the impact this will have on your job and the relationship with your boss.

Just follow these 11 simple steps that will showcase that you are a dedicated professional.

1. Contact your boss as soon as possible

It's important to contact the people you work with as soon as possible. This way they will be able to adjust to the situation and make arrangements for your absence.

Maybe somebody else will be able to take over your duties?

2. Explain what you are dealing with

When you talk or text your boss, start with an explanation of what is going on with you. It's important to convey that you are going through something serious.

There is no need to go into detail, you can simply say it is personal, health-related, or a family matter.

3. Be honest and transparent

When explaining your situation, it's important to be truthful about the reasons for your absence. Your boss will be more understanding if they feel that you are being genuine and not trying to make up an excuse.

4. Apologize and state you won’t be able to come to work

Say that you are sorry but you won't be able to come to work today because of your serious situation. By presenting things this way, you should expect to be excused and told to take care.

5. Provide evidence or documentation (if possible)

If your absence is due to a medical or personal issue, providing documentation or evidence, such as a doctor's note, can help to support your claim and demonstrate the legitimacy of your situation.

6. Remind them of your reliability and work ethic

Remind your boss of your commitment to your job and any past instances where you have gone above and beyond in your role. This will help to show that your absence is an exception rather than a pattern of behavior.

7. Offer solutions or alternatives

If possible, suggest ways in which you can make up for your absence or minimize the impact on the team, such as working remotely, working extra hours when you return, or completing tasks ahead of time.

8. Show empathy and understanding for your boss's perspective

Acknowledge the potential inconvenience or stress your absence may cause for your boss and the team, and express your gratitude for their understanding. This demonstrates that you are considering the bigger picture and not just focusing on your own needs.

9. Ask a coworker to cover for you

Maybe there is somebody who can take care of some of your key responsibilities? If there is a colleague that you can trust, talk to them, explain the situation, and ask them to cover for you.

In case all goes well and you are covered, make sure to share this detail with your boss.

10. Stay in touch

You can say to your boss that you will keep them updated. Tell them that you will message them to confirm that you will be able to come to work tomorrow.

And tell them if it is okay for them to call you in case they need some work-related information.

11. Compensate when you return

Every time I wasn't able to go to work because of personal circumstances, I made sure to compensate by catching up with my work. I advise you to do the same.

This way your boss and your colleagues will know that you are diligent, reliable, and hard-working.

What to say to your boss when you can't come to work today

If you have a hard time finding the right words to explain to your boss why you can't work today, then here are a few examples based on common situations.

1. When you are sick

"Hi [Boss's Name], I'm feeling quite unwell today, and I believe it's best for me to stay home and recover. I understand that my absence might create some inconvenience, but I wouldn't want to risk spreading the illness to our team. I will make sure to catch up on my work and provide updates on my progress remotely. Thank you for your understanding."

2. When dealing with an emergency

"[Boss's Name], I apologize for the short notice, but I'm dealing with a home emergency today – a burst pipe has flooded my apartment. I need to stay home to handle the repairs and ensure the situation doesn't worsen. I understand the impact this may have on the team, so I'll do my best to stay in touch and complete any urgent tasks remotely. Thank you for your support."

3. When facing a family emergency

"Hello [Boss's Name], I hope you're doing well. Unfortunately, I've just received news of a family emergency and will need to take the day off to attend to it. I understand this may cause some disruption to our team, and I apologize for the inconvenience. I will make arrangements to have my work covered or rescheduled and will keep you updated on my situation. Thank you for your understanding during this difficult time."

4. When experiencing unexpected childcare issues

"Hi [Boss's Name], I regret to inform you that I won't be able to come to work today due to unforeseen childcare issues. My child's school has closed suddenly, and I need to stay home to take care of them. I realize this may cause some inconvenience, but I will do my best to stay connected and work on tasks remotely. I appreciate your understanding and support."

5. Bereavement or attending a funeral

"Hi [Boss's Name], I'm reaching out to let you know that I've just received news of a close family member's passing, and I need to take the day off to attend the funeral. I understand that this may cause some disruption to our team, and I apologize for the inconvenience. I will make sure to delegate my tasks or reschedule any meetings, and I'll be available to catch up on work as soon as possible. Thank you for your understanding and support during this difficult time."

I won't be able to come to work today email example

Subject: Unexpected Absence - [Your Name] - [Date]

Dear [Boss's Name], I hope this message finds you well. Unfortunately, I must inform you that I won't be able to come to work today due to unforeseen circumstances.

I apologize for the short notice and any inconvenience this may cause to you and the team.

To minimize the impact of my absence, I have taken the following steps:

1. Informed [Coworker's Name] about my ongoing projects and provided them with the necessary information to cover for me.

2. Rescheduled or delegated any meetings or appointments I had planned for today.

3. Prioritized tasks and made a plan to catch up on work upon my return.

I understand the importance of staying connected, so I will be periodically checking my email and will be available for any urgent matters that might arise during my absence.

Once again, I apologize for the inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding. I will keep you updated on my situation and plan to return to work as soon as possible.

Thank you for your support.

Best regards, [Your Full Name]

How to text your boss you can't come in

Here are a few examples of texts you can send to your boss when you are unable to show up to work.

"Hi [Boss's Name], I'm feeling very unwell today and won't be able to make it to work. I'll ensure my tasks are covered and keep you updated on my condition. Thanks for understanding."

"Hello [Boss's Name], I'm dealing with a family emergency and need to take the day off. I'll arrange for my tasks to be handled and update you as soon as possible. I appreciate your support."

"Hey [Boss's Name], due to an unexpected childcare issue, I won't be able to come in today. I'll work remotely as much as possible and make sure my responsibilities are covered. Thank you for understanding."

"Hi [Boss's Name], I have a sudden medical appointment I need to attend today and won't be in the office. I'll delegate my tasks and catch up on work as soon as I can. Thank you for your support."

"Hello [Boss's Name], my car broke down, and I can't make it to work today. I'll try to work remotely and ensure my tasks are completed. I appreciate your understanding and patience."

How to tell your boss you can't work tomorrow

What about if you can’t go to work the next day? Again, I say to you that honesty is your best friend. Let’s say you have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow. I mean, that’s a respectable reason, right?

So once again, simply contact your boss as soon as possible and plainly explain the situation. You can follow the steps that I have outlined above.

If you have a good reason for not showing up at work tomorrow, then you will be excused by your boss and coworkers.

As I like to say, always assume good intentions. So put yourself in the shoes of your boss. What would you do and how would you react if one of your trusted employees told you that they won’t be able to go to work tomorrow because they are dealing with something serious?

A kind and understanding person will always put people and their well-being first. They would probably tell you not to worry about it and focus on dealing with your situation.

After all, being productive is a byproduct of well-being. So get well, cope with your situation, and get back to work when possible. In the worst possible case, you can ask your employer for some unpaid time off.

But what if your boss reacts badly to the news that you won’t be able to make it to work tomorrow? That would be pretty toxic of them, wouldn’t it? You might want to go over the signs of a toxic work environment.

How to call out of work while at work

How to call out of work while at work

Here’s another situation that is very likely to happen during the course of your life: you are at work but you receive a phone call or a text message – it looks like something came up and it requires your immediate attention. Now what?

If it is a serious emergency, there is no need to ponder over how to call off work. By all means, just go and don’t worry about what your boss or your coworkers will think.

For example, what if a family member is in trouble and needs your help? Just go and deal with the situation as best as you can’t and leave the explanations for later.

Maybe you can quickly tell something to the person nearest to you on your way out. If possible, text your boss or a coworker when you have the chance.

After all, the people you work with will probably be worried as well.

Usually, storming out of a workplace during work hours is a sign that the person is dealing with something serious. So inform your workplace about your situation as soon as you can.

Excuses to call out of work

Employers expect that every now and then, things will come up that will prevent their workers from showing up at work or calling out of work. Here are common reasons that should be respected by every boss.

  • Injury
  • Illness
  • Family emergency
  • Childcare issues
  • Car accident
  • Medical appointment
  • Bereavement
  • Jury duty
  • Personal emergency
  • Mandatory court appearance
  • Mental health day
  • Caregiver responsibilities
  • Dental emergency
  • Home emergency (e.g., burst pipe, fire)
  • Religious observance
  • Unexpected pet emergency
  • Witnessing a crime and assisting authorities
  • Victim of a crime (e.g., burglary, identity theft)
  • Family member's graduation or important event
  • Military obligations

Some companies have internal policies that address situations in which a worker will be prevented from going to work.

Even if your company doesn’t have such a policy, you can be sure that the situations outlined above are within the norm and you should be excused.

How to tell your boss you need a personal day off

You might be wondering what happens if your reason for not going to work does not fall in one of the so-called “acceptable” categories. What if, let’s say, you just don’t feel like working today?

Maybe things have been tough at work and you could really use a day off to stay sane.

Maybe there is something really fun that you want to do.

Well, I will be the first to say that you should absolutely never lie to your boss if you need a personal day off work.

You might lie to your boss once or twice and get a pass but if this continues and every week you come up with random reasons and last-minute “emergencies” that you have to deal with, your boss and colleagues will get suspicious quickly.

So my advice to you is never to abuse the trust between you and your boss. Instead, go see them in person – here is how to ask your boss for a day off. Just be honest and they are very likely to meet you halfway.

The importance of honesty at work

As I already mentioned, some of the pillars of a healthy work environment are honesty, openness, and trust. If you truly care about your job and the people you work with, then you should always put your best foot forward in everything that you do.

And this applies to not being able to go to work as well, no matter the circumstances. The goal here is to minimize the impact your absence will have on your workplace. Make this a part of your mindset. Here are 3 things to focus on.

  • Do not feel guilty. When disaster and urgency strike, there is very little we can do.
  • Keep calm. And focus on dealing with your situation, this way you will return to work sooner.
  • Be responsible. And show your boss that you are responsible by being truthful.

My experience of not being able to show up at work

As a seasoned project manager at a leading international tech company, I've always been passionate about my job. I take pride in overseeing complex projects, working closely with my team, and delivering exceptional results for our clients.

Over the years, I've earned a reputation for being reliable, diligent, and committed to my work.

However, just like anyone else, I've had my fair share of personal matters and unforeseen circumstances that have occasionally prevented me from making it to the office or fulfilling my responsibilities for the day.

From sudden family emergencies to falling ill, life happens, and even the most dedicated professionals can't always control the circumstances.

What has truly made a difference in these situations is the trust and understanding I have built with my boss and coworkers over the years.

I've consistently demonstrated my commitment to the company's success, often going above and beyond in my role.

As a result, when unexpected events arise, my colleagues know that I'm not taking advantage of their goodwill or shirking my duties.

They trust me to be transparent and honest about my situation and to take the necessary steps to minimize the impact of my absence on the team and our projects.

Whenever I can't make it to work, I always make sure to communicate my situation clearly and promptly to my boss and teammates.

I take the initiative to delegate tasks or provide updates on the project's progress to ensure a seamless transition during my absence.

Additionally, I remain available and responsive via email or phone in case any urgent issues arise that require my attention.

Upon returning to work, I always make an extra effort to catch up on any missed tasks and re-immerse myself in the projects at hand.

I prioritize open communication with my team, staying informed about any developments that occurred during my absence.

I also put in extra hours, if necessary, to compensate for the lost time and ensure that our projects remain on track to meet their deadlines and objectives.

In the end, it's the trust and understanding I have built with my colleagues that allows me to navigate these challenging situations without jeopardizing my professional reputation or the success of our projects.

By demonstrating my commitment, staying transparent about my circumstances, and doing my best to compensate for any lost time, I continue to maintain a strong relationship with my team and contribute to the ongoing success of our company.

Frequently asked questions about how to tell your boss you can't work today

How much detail should I provide about the reason for my absence?

When informing your boss about your absence, it's important to be honest and provide enough information for them to understand the situation. However, you don't need to divulge extremely personal or sensitive details. Simply provide a clear and concise explanation of the reason for your absence, and emphasize that you'll do your best to minimize the impact on the team.

What is the best way to approach my boss if I need multiple days off due to my situation?

If you need to take multiple days off, it's essential to communicate this as soon as possible. Clearly explain the reason for your extended absence, and let your boss know the expected duration of your time off. Offer to help with finding a temporary replacement or delegating your tasks to ensure that your work is covered. Be open to discussing alternative arrangements, such as working remotely or adjusting your schedule, if feasible.

What should I do if my boss doesn't seem understanding about my absence?

If your boss appears unsympathetic or skeptical about your absence, calmly reiterate the reason for your inability to work and emphasize your commitment to your job. Offer to provide documentation or evidence, if possible, to support your claim. Also, highlight any steps you've taken to minimize the impact on the team and your plans for catching up on work upon your return. If the issue persists, consider discussing the matter with HR or a higher-level manager.

Can I be fired for calling in sick?

In general, employers should understand that employees may occasionally need to take time off due to illness. However, excessive absences, a pattern of calling in sick without proper documentation, or suspected abuse of sick leave policies could potentially result in disciplinary action, including termination. It's important to be aware of your company's sick leave policies and adhere to them, providing appropriate notice and documentation when needed.

Written by:
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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.

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