5 Good Excuses For Missing Work (And Bad Excuses You Shouldn’t Use)

By Chris Kolmar - Oct. 15, 2021
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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Everyone needs to take an unexpected day off work at some point in their lives. Most supervisors like to get a bit of notice when you’ll be out, but good managers understand that some circumstances don’t allow for advance notice.

Some no-notice reasons are perfectly acceptable, as long as they’re used sparingly. Other excuses might make you look unprepared and unprofessional.

In this article, we’ll cover which excuses for missing work won’t raise any eyebrows, and which are likely to make a bad impression. We’ll also cover how to handle situations when you need to come into work late or leave early, as well as tips for delivering all these messages.

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Good Excuses for Missing Work

  1. Personal illness. If you’re too sick to get out of bed and do your job, or if you have an especially contagious illness, call out of work. A day away from the office isn’t just for your sake, but for your coworkers’ health and safety as well.

    Even if you work remotely, powering through your work while sick will slow down your recovery and leave you less effective for a longer period of time.

    Unexpected sickness affects everyone, and good managers will include some wiggle room in the schedule to accommodate this.

    You may need to schedule a doctor’s appointment to get a note for your employer that “verifies” you were, in fact, sick. Most employers will only require this sort of thing if you’re out for an extended period of time — not just a day or two.

    Keep your employer updated periodically and let them know at the end of the day whether you will be returning or if you need more recovery time at the end of the day.

  2. Family or home emergency. An emergency is, by its very nature, unexpected and urgent. A family emergency can include your child getting sick, a car accident, an elderly family member’s injury, an unexpected surgery, the death of a loved one, or any other urgent family matter.

    A home emergency could include a burst pipe, a fire, a broken car, or any other home matter that must be tended to immediately or prevents you from going into work. In the case of a family emergency or a home emergency, let your employer know as soon as possible that you’ll need to miss work.

    The emergency situations listed above all have varying degrees of seriousness and may require different amounts of time off. For instance, if you are dealing with the death of a loved one, you will need more time off work than if you are dealing with a burst water pipe. Whatever you do, don’t make up a fake emergency.

  3. Unexpected circumstances out of your control. This includes anything that prevents you from going to work that you couldn’t have known you would need to plan around. Maybe your flight was delayed, the bus broke down, your babysitter never showed up, or any other random occurrence.

    Situations where you could have planned around this circumstance – such as your car running out of gas on the highway or your alarm malfunctioning – should be used with extreme caution. It’s understandable if this happens once, but it will reflect poorly on your preparedness if it happens multiple times.

    Keep in mind that you may need to work from home in these circumstances or arrange for some other way of completing your day’s work. Don’t use the “unexpected circumstances” excuse more than a couple of times, as these occurrences are typically quite rare.

  4. You’ve worked hard to earn it. This is perhaps the only circumstance where missing work is a positive situation for you and your employer, and it requires a bit of planning and dedication. If you spend extra time working in your week (by coming in early or staying late), you may be able to arrange a day off for yourself.

    More important than the time commitment is the result of your efforts. Asking for a random day off after completing a big project that’s the culmination of a lot of hard work is an acceptable part of most work cultures.

  5. Scheduled appointment. Medical appointments can be difficult to secure and may need to be scheduled during work hours. Professional appointments, such as a meeting with a prospective client, may also need to be scheduled during regular work hours. Both are perfectly legitimate reasons to miss work.

    As soon as you schedule your doctor’s or dentist appointment, let your employer know through the appropriate channels that you will need to either leave early or come in late (you won’t be able to miss an entire day for one appointment, typically) on that day.

    Similarly, let your employer know once you schedule an outing with a client or other work-related matters (just make sure it’s part of your job, of course). Just be sure whatever you say you’re doing, you are actually planning on doing it. Otherwise, you will be quickly called out.

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Worst Excuses for Missing Work

You may be here looking to see whether your excuse for missing work is valid or if there are some excuses that you just flat out shouldn’t use. If this is the case, look over this list of the worst excuses for missing work. These are some excuses that are generally considered unprofessional and could even get you fired:

  • Feeling tired. If you are feeling tired due to a sickness or an emergency situation, you should explain these circumstances to your boss as that’s obviously a bit different. However, if you simply got to bed late or are feeling groggy, that’s not a valid or professional reason for missing work.

  • Hungover. Never tell your boss you’re too hungover to go into work, no matter how “cool” they seem. You knew you had work the next day, and you took the gamble. And you lost that gamble, unfortunately, but you still have to go to work. If you’re really incapacitated, call in with a stomach flu, and maybe make some different choices next time.

  • Lack of planning. Emergencies and mistakes are understandable, and they happen to everyone. However, if you always find yourself having alarm clock, car, or babysitter emergencies, your employer will see you as an unreliable worker.

  • “Don’t feel like it.” It’s not likely that you’ll be bold enough to call in and say you don’t feel like coming into work today, but any reason that ultimately amounts to “I don’t feel like it” is questionable. If you are unhappy with your job, it may be time to consider finding a new one or discussing changing your workload.

  • Forgot. Unless you’re a teen who’s just been hired at your very first part-time job, not coming into work (and, naturally, not calling) because you forgot you were scheduled is going to get you fired. Keep track of your schedule and always call in if you are going to miss work.

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Coming In Late or Leaving Early

When it comes to coming in late or leaving early, there’s a bit more wiggle room (but not much). Obviously, it’s preferable to your employer that you work at least part of your scheduled shift rather than none of it, so offering to work a partial day looks better for your professional standing than taking the whole day off.

If you are in a small-time emergency (e.g., home repair, car troubles), offer to come into work as soon as the issue is resolved. The situation may not be fixed in time for you to go in, but even making the offer makes you seem more dedicated to the job.

If you are a bit ill (but definitely not if you are contagious), offer to come in late or leave early, depending on what you think you can manage. This will likely be received much more warmly by your employer and show that you are willing to push through. Just don’t push yourself too hard.

Some circumstances (i.e., appointments) only necessitate missing a half-day of work, so scheduling an appointment strategically could make it so you can come in late or leave early according to your preference.

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Tips for Giving an Excuse

When giving an excuse for missing work, it’s best to use the following guidelines to maintain your professional standing and to make it easier on those you work with:

  • Contact your employer as soon as you know you’ll be missing work. The sooner your employer knows you’ll be missing work, the more time they have to plan for your absence. Let them know as soon as possible, and be sure to follow the proper protocol in your workplace for calling off.

  • Follow company policy. Whatever absence policy your employer or supervisor prefers, adhere to it. Some bosses like to be called, some are fine with an email, and others will require you to inform multiple people, including HR.

    Most big companies will have an online portal to request days off, as well as a place to formally document the request and its acceptance.

  • Don’t lie. It can be tempting, but try to be honest when calling off from work. If you invent an emergency now, you may not have leeway for an actual crisis in the future.

  • Give necessary details, but not too much. Don’t be too vague, but don’t be too explicit. Simply saying you have a “personal emergency” is likely to be questioned by your employer, but saying you have explosive diarrhea is definitely not necessary. Accurately explain the situation as far as you feel comfortable.

    In the case of an ongoing event, provide updates as appropriate. For example, if you come down with the flu, check in each day on your status; if there’s a home emergency, call to let your boss know when the professional arrives and you’re on your way.

  • Plan for covering your workload. Most importantly, when missing work, you’re going to want to make a plan for how the work you missed will get done. Whether you have a coworker cover your shift or come in early next week, let your boss know you are taking your workload seriously.

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Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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