“I couldn’t get out of bed” or “The coffee ran out” aren’t the best excuses to give when running late for work. No, your boss won’t believe you when you tell them that a zebra held up the traffic or a huge typhoon hit your house.
If you’re late for work, you need to give a valid reason for your delay. It might mean telling a little white lie and putting on your best act, but at least you avoid getting that headshake of disapproval from your boss.
Instead of saying you spent half an hour scrolling through Facebook, here are 30 more reasonable and valid excuses for being late to work.
Depending on how late you are to work (and how often you’ve been late recently), you may need to get a little creative with what you tell your boss. Here’s a long list of valid reasons you can use to excuse yourself:
1. “There was too much traffic”
“Sorry for being late. A lane was closed, and it caused a massive traffic jam.” Those pesky roadworks, hey? This is a pretty easy and obvious excuse to use when arriving late to work. It’s not your fault, and there’s no proving that it was actually the snooze button that kept you from arriving on time. Cheeky, I know.
2. “A family member was sick”
A little white lie never hurt anybody, right? Telling your manager that your child or partner needed medical attention at 8am is probably an easy route to go down if you’re running late to the office. Plus, your manager will probably offer some sympathy (oops).
3. “My car broke down”
Driving to work has its downsides. Sometimes, bad things happen, and your car just doesn’t start in the morning. Explain to your employer that your vehicle is to blame for your late arrival and, in classic Friends style, that something was wrong with the “left phalange”. Here’s to hoping they know absolutely nothing about cars.
4. “My babysitter let me down”
Late for the office? If you have kids, it would be perfectly understandable to say that your babysitter let you down that morning. I mean, finding an alternative at 8am isn’t easy and, of course, it’s going to delay your day. You can’t leave the kids alone at home, so your boss has no reason to argue against this excuse.
5. “I was stopped by the police”
When in trouble, blame the police. Getting stopped on the highway is bound to delay you some extra minutes. Especially when you have to hand in all your personal information, and then you end up getting caught in extra traffic. Never tell your boss that you were caught for speeding, though, because they’ll want proof. Just say that they were doing random checks on the highway (lying hurts, I know).
6. “My pet ran away”
Sometimes, that hairdryer just doesn’t want to work in the mornings. If that’s your real reason for being late to work, it’s time to think up a more valid excuse for your supervisor. Say that you spent half an hour chasing your dog Benji down the street after he escaped your gates. If you have a manager who loves animals, this excuse will go down pretty well.
7. “My water pipes burst”
Use excuses that will make your boss sympathize with you — like saying your water pipes burst. There’s no proof it didn’t happen, and it will explain why you’re looking flustered this morning (when, really, it’s because there was a spider in the bedroom that kept you getting out of bed). Waiting for the maintenance guy to turn up and having to mop your house has delayed you a good hour and, well, work had to wait.
8. “I felt very ill”
We’ve all had mornings where we’ve woken up feeling like death warmed up. We’re sure your boss has, too. So, use this as an excuse to explain your tardiness. Calling in sick and using good excuses like “I feel dizzy” or “I’m projectile vomiting” are ways to avoid that look of disapproval from your manager.
9. “I lost my bag”
On your way to work, you stopped off to grab a bottle of milk for the office (brownie points for being generous to your colleagues), but you realized you left your bag in the shop. By the time you noticed and drove back to the store, it was already 9am. Pretending to have your bag stolen is a great cover story to protect you from being told off by your employer.
10. “The weather was really bad”
If waking up from a terrible nightmare had you too shaken up to head to work on time, it’s best you think up a more reasonable excuse for your boss. Explain that the snowy or rainy weather got your car stuck, or the roads were closed off. This might even be the best excuse to get out of work the whole day!
11. “The subway/bus was out of order”
For those who use public transport to get to work, this excuse will be as easy as pie. Call in late and simply explain to your supervisor that the subway is closed due to technical checks or that your usual bus didn’t turn up because of drivers’ strikes. Mass transit problems is the perfect reason for being late.
12. “I was held up at the doctor’s”
You booked your appointment way before you’re supposed to get to work, but the waiting room was overcrowded, and the doctor took too long to see you. Now, that is an excuse that will sweeten up your boss. A doctor’s appointment is always a concern for your employer, so this cover-up story for being late might even get you some sympathy. Don’t forget to *fake cough*!
13. “There’s been a death in the family”
This excuse is pretty dramatic, but if being late for work is detrimental to your position, it’s time to summon the devil and make up a horrid lie. Explaining that a family member passed away late last night or early this morning is a believable way to cover up your tardiness. No boss will question this personal issue. Just make sure to put on your best poker face when reciting the story.
14. “I was called in to school”
Another white lie that will sound like a meaningful reason for being late. If you have kids, tell your manager that you were called in to school collect your child — either for being unruly or because they got sick. Suck up to your boss by adding in, “As a fellow parent, I really hope you understand.” Argh, kids these days!
15. “My house got burgled”
Yes, this may be dramatic, but it’s better than telling your boss that you wasted time talking to your friend on the phone! Channel your best Meryl Streep and explain that your house was burgled in the early hours of the morning, and that you had to wait for the police to arrive and take fingerprints. Tragic.
16. “I had a car accident”
This cover-up will make total sense when you arrive one hour late to work on a Monday morning. You don’t have to exaggerate this excuse — just inform your employer that someone hit the back of your car on the way to work and that you had to wait for the insurance to turn up and sort out the issue.
17. “It’s personal”
Sometimes, you don’t need a full-blown cover story to explain why you’re late. Simply tell your manager that you were held up for “personal reasons”. Mention that a sensitive issue arose overnight and you’d rather not talk about it. Hopefully, your boss doesn’t pester you to explain, but otherwise, “it’s personal” sounds like a pretty good reason to let you off the hook.
18. “I got splashed by a puddle”
Argh, those inconsiderable drivers. It’s raining, you have to walk to work, and a car drives by and — bam! — you get splashed by a passing car. Well, that only means you’ll have to head back home for an outfit change. This excuse is better than saying you were abducted by aliens.
19. “I lost my car keys”
Arriving to work on time is one of the best ways to prove your workplace professionalism. But sometimes, kids happen. Running late because you like to sleep in? Try to give the excuse that your troublesome kids lost your car keys and you spent half an hour searching for them before the commute to work.
20. “I have bad cramps”
Sometimes, being a woman has its perks. Telling your boss that you’re running late due to severe menstruation cramps is a way to soften them up. If your manager is a man, he’ll probably feel quite uncomfortable discussing it, and if it’s a woman, well, she understands your pain.
21. “I stopped to help someone”
Stopping on your way to work to assist a stranger is simply the right thing to do. Your manager will agree… Unless they’re hoping to come across as a terrible person. So, go ahead and make up a story about helping an elderly tourist navigate the city or a teenager carry a heavy parcel down the road. Your manager isn’t likely to make a big deal out of something like this.
22. “I had to drop off something at my grandma’s”
Ah — grandmas. Always lovely to have! If you’re an otherwise punctual employee, using the grandma card once in a blue moon can be of use. You could say you had to take her some meds or groceries. Plus, chances are that she herself wouldn’t mind if she knew you were “using her” to get out of trouble at work!
23. “I had to go to the bank”
The bank is open from 9 to 5. And you have to be at work from 9 to 5. Put these two statements together, and you’ve got an unsolvable riddle… Unless you go to the bank during your work hours, that is. Or pretend to do that while you’re queueing at Starbucks for your morning fix.
24. “I got held up at the post office”
So, you “had to send off an important document” this morning. But the “post office” was “unusually crowded”. Maintain your composure walking into the office, apologize to your team, and go to your workstation. No one will know.
25. “My child threw a tantrum”
Requirements for this excuse: you must have a child. Preferably a young one. The good thing is that, regardless whether your manager is a parent or not, they’ll know just how difficult it can be to get small children to do as you say sometimes. If they don’t feel like going to daycare or putting on their raincoat, they simply won’t. Being able to use this as an excuse is perhaps the only good thing that comes out of this display of stubbornness!
26. “Mr Mittens barfed on my shoes”
If you’re not terribly late, tell your manager that you woke up on time, made breakfast, got dressed and then noticed that your cat was showing signs of feeling sick. Having to clean up the imaginary mess, change your outfit and shower a second time takes time. Right?
27. “I couldn’t find my house key”
As far as common excuses go, this one’s a classic. It’s a simple, small lie (perfect if you prefer to avoid making false health-related claims) and yet hard to argue with. “I looked everywhere,” tell them. “In between the cushions on the couch, in the fridge and in the bathroom. Turns out it got tangled in some clothes and ended up in the laundry basket.”
28. “I had to visit the optician”
If you’re wearing glasses, why not use your poor eyesight to your advantage for once? You can say you accidentally dropped your glasses and stepped on them getting ready for work. Or that the arm fell off the frame. And, like that wasn’t enough, your old pair from years ago has a prescription that no longer works for you. So, you had no choice, really, but to stop and get it fixed on your way to work.
29. “I started a small fire in my kitchen”
If you arrive late to work, you can always blame it on your poor culinary skills. How? By fabricating this scenario: you were getting on with your morning routine, cooking some eggs in your kitchen, when suddenly you realized you’d set the hand towel on fire. What can anyone say? This stuff happens sometimes, especially in the morning when you haven’t had your coffee yet.
30. “I fell down the stairs”
This excuse will work particularly well if you’re known at work for being clumsy. If you’re the type to bang your shins against people’s chairs or walk into doors all the time, your team isn’t going to question your story. It will sound too likely to be disputed.
Running late happens to the best of us. If you handle it right, it shouldn’t lead to any problems! So, here are some steps you can take to minimize the chances of stirring up conflict with your boss.
1. Inform your boss right away
Regardless why you’re coming late this morning, contacting your boss via instant message, email or phone should be a priority. The sooner you inform them, the more time they’ll have to figure out how to temporarily cover for your absence. This will minimize the inconvenience caused and prevent extra tension from occurring.
2. Avoid telling an elaborate lie
If you lie about a severe illness in the family or some obscure component of your car breaking down, your boss might question you about it. They might even follow up with you in coming days and, if you forget the details of the lie you told, you’ll give yourself away.
3. Compose yourself before driving
Whatever is causing your delay, there’s a good chance you’re anxious about arriving late to work… Especially if your boss is not the flexible, understanding kind. So, if you dislike lying and dread walking into the office late, take some deep breaths and remind yourself this isn’t an end-of-the-world scenario. And don’t speed!
4. Apologize when you arrive
The first thing you’ll want to do once you get to work is apologize to your colleagues and your manager — especially if someone’s had to temporarily fill in for you. To come across as sincere, make eye contact with your coworkers, keep your apology short and get to work right away.
5. Avoid being late again
Although your boss may not know the real reason you didn’t arrive on time, you do. Create a plan not to let it happen again. For example, if you were late because you stayed up binge-watching The Last of Us, hold yourself accountable and try to work on your self-control.
It can be hard to find the right words when you’re two hours late and your mind is anxiously thinking “What do I say, what do I say?” So, here’s an example that can help you get started in crafting your message to your employer.
I am writing to inform you that I will be late arriving to work this morning due to our nanny letting us down. My husband had already left for work when I received a phone call saying she was too unwell to mind our toddler.
After some back and forth, I was able to arrange for my parents to mind the little one today. I am now on my way to the office and expect to arrive by 10am.
Please accept my apologies.
Some employers require team members to call in when running late, while others accept emails and instant messages. Stick to the procedures your employer follows when reaching out to them.
Life happens and, well, you’re late. It happens to the best of us. Just don’t make it a habit and instead practice good work etiquette by making yourself punctual. If running late is indeed something you can’t help, with our list, we hope you don’t run out of excuses!
How do you explain to your boss why you're late in the morning? Have you used any good excuses recently? Let us know what they are by leaving a comment below.
Originally published on August 25, 2021. Updated by Electra Michaelidou.