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Updated Dec 21, 2023

The Best and Worst Excuses for Getting Out of Work

Absentee excuses can go off the rails. Where do you draw the line?

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Written By: Sean PeekSenior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
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Table of Contents

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From doctor visits to vacations to self-care days, your employees will inevitably need to take time off occasionally. Whether due to a family matter or a personal obligation, accommodating employees’ time-off requests is part of being an understanding and supportive employer. However, when excuses for missing work go off the rails, you may wonder when and how to draw the line.

Common excuses for missing work

As an employer or manager, you’ve likely heard every reason in the book for taking an unplanned personal day. These are some of the most common reasons for workplace absenteeism:

  • Transportation issues: Transportation issues include train delays, traffic jams or a car breakdown like a flat tire. If the delays are severe enough, the day may be over before the issue is resolved.
  • Illness: Whether your employee has a fever or their child is home with a stomach bug, illness is a valid excuse to call out of work.
  • Weather: A bad snowstorm, heavy rain or another weather event may create unsafe conditions for commuting or inhibit your employees’ ability to perform work outdoors.
  • Oversleeping: Alarms can fail to chime for many reasons, and oversleeping may prompt some employees to take the day off instead.

Editor’s note: Looking for the right time and attendance solution for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

Good excuses for missing work

Attendance is a crucial employee performance metric. However, even the most steadfast employees may need time off occasionally. The following are some good reasons to miss work:

  • Health maintenance: Going to a doctor’s appointment, undergoing a health screening and suffering a chronic illness flare-up are valid and vital reasons for an employee to miss work.
  • Family obligations: Tending to a family member could involve various tasks that require an employee to miss work. For example, they may need to attend a parent-teacher conference or take an elderly parent to the doctor.
  • Home emergency: If a pipe bursts or the roof begins to leak, your employee must take care of it immediately.
  • Delivery or service window: Sometimes, scheduling a furniture delivery or cable installation during work hours is unavoidable. If this is not a frequent occurrence and you are notified in advance, this is an acceptable reason for your employee to take the day off.
  • Death in the family: It is fully understandable when an employee misses work because of a death in the family. They may need to attend a funeral, fulfill a religious obligation or simply grieve in the immediate aftermath.
  • Paid time off (PTO) usage. If your company offers paid time off, whether in the form of vacation days or family and sick leave, your employees are entitled to use it within the boundaries of your established PTO policy. Some companies offer unlimited PTO. However, employees must still clear time off with their managers.
FYIDid you know
Unexpected employee absences may impact short-term productivity. However, the long-term benefits of improved morale and reduced employee turnover can ultimately save your business money.

Strange, unusual or bad excuses for missing work

While illness and car trouble are typical excuses for missing work, some are a little off the wall. Here are some unusual excuses employers we interviewed have heard from their employees.

Going on the lam

Michael Reznik, co-founder and former CEO of TriFold, said the strangest excuse he ever received from an employee for missing work was because the employee had lost faith in the legal system and needed to go “on the lam.” 

While the excuse seemed ridiculous on the surface, Reznik said that upon further questioning, the employee revealed he’d previously testified against some men, which resulted in them being sent to prison. The employee learned the men were getting out on early parole and feared retribution. 

“At first, I wasn’t sure how to handle it,” Reznik admitted. “It seemed a little far-fetched, but at the same time, I do care about my employees’ health and safety. I also had to consider other employees’ safety. If some ‘rough’ guys were going to come to our office looking for him, I really didn’t want him to be here.” 

In the end, Reznik accepted the excuse and the employee returned to work after a few days. A few months later, the employee gave the same excuse, left and never returned.

A death in the family ― of the same person several times over

A death in the family is a perfectly legitimate excuse for missing work. The same family member dying multiple times is a different story. Ola Wlodarczyk, a human resources (HR) specialist at Zety, once had an employee who called in on three different occasions with the excuse that their grandmother had died. 

“It was obvious the employee was not telling the truth, but we had to be strategic in our response,” Wlodarczyk explained. 

After the employee returned from their bereavement leave, they were brought into the HR office and confronted with the situation. Wlodarczyk said they were straightforward with the employee, showing them all previous requests and reasons, including the other grandmother-death excuses, for calling out of work. 

“The employee went completely white,” Wlodarczyk recalled. “Still, we gave the employee a chance to tell us their side of the story. Of course, it’s possible someone misspoke or even categorizes someone as a close family member in this way, so we gave them a chance to tell their side of the story before disciplining them.” 

Ultimately, the employee admitted that no relatives had recently passed away. In addition, Wlodarczyk said the HR team discovered a litany of other false excuses that the employee had made up for missing work. 

“It was very eye-opening but a learning experience,” Wlodarczyk said. “If we would have gone in and reprimanded the person off the bat, then we would not have uncovered these other lies. So, in the long run, keeping cool certainly helped us.”

TipBottom line
Even when you catch an employee in a lie, offer them an opportunity to defend themselves. Always remain calm and fair and document any attendance policy breaches.

An unusual injury

In a situation that seems right out of The Office, Richard Pummell, HR lead for DevelopIntelligence, had an employee call in sick because she burned her feet. Although this didn’t occur on a George Foreman Grill, a la Michael Scott, it was related to cooking. 

When the employee returned to work the next day, Pummell said many of the theories he had devised about how exactly her accident occurred were dispelled. 

“Unfortunately, the poor woman truly had been cooking dinner barefoot when a large pot of oil she was using for frying splashed hot oil onto her feet as she was moving it,” Pummell recalled. “It had required a trip to the emergency room and the application of some bandages.” 

Unfortunately, that was only the first food-related injury to befall this employee. 

“It wasn’t too long after that she called in sick on another Monday,” Pummell shared. “She’d slipped on a banana peel and had a bad back.” 

TipBottom line
Reduce sick days in your office by encouraging healthy eating, providing exercise resources and offering other wellness initiatives.

Pathological liar

Jean Paldan, founder and CEO of Rare Form New Media, hired someone who immediately started giving ridiculous excuses for missing work. On what was supposed to be his first day, the new employee called to say his apartment flooded. The next day, his mother, who he said had dementia, had supposedly wandered off and he had to find her. Over the next four weeks, the employee claimed he couldn’t make it to work because he couldn’t find his medication, had norovirus and had to be with his pregnant girlfriend, even though it was later determined she wasn’t pregnant. 

“We at first thought that he was just having a bad time of it with the flood and his mother, then catching the norovirus and we were supportive,” Paldan recalled. “However, he started to flounder and forgot which lie he had told and that’s when we realized he was a pathological liar. At that point, we decided to let him go.” 

Wild but true excuses for missing work

While some outrageous excuses are made up, others are too ridiculous not to be true.

Multicause traffic incident

BJ Enoch, vice president of digital marketing for Career Certified, recalled that on the morning of an important client meeting, one of his team members texted that he couldn’t make it in that morning because he was stuck in traffic after someone hit a deer and their car caught on fire. 

“I’d never had a reason to doubt this team member before and wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, but this was just a bit too much,” Enoch explained. 

Despite his doubts and wanting more answers, Enoch was in the middle of texting the employee to be safe when he received a follow-up message that included a picture of a car in the middle of the highway, on fire, with a deer on the side of the road. 

“We chalked it up as uncontrollable and he made the hours up,” Enoch said. 

A birthday party for a four-legged pal

Shawn Breyer, owner of Sell My House Fast Atlanta, once had an employee take a day off for their dog’s birthday because they had to get the party ready. 

“As weird as the idea was, they brought in pictures from the party,” Breyer remembered. “They had invited all of their friends and dogs over to the house and actually threw a party.” 

Goats gone wild

A herd of goats traipsing through a house is an excuse most couldn’t even fathom giving. However, that’s one Kyle Birkemeier had to give his employer while working abroad. 

“I had goats and had to call off work when I came home to find that someone had let them into the house and they pooped on everything,” Birkemeier explained. “My supervisors sure found it hilarious and, eventually, I did as well.” 

FYIDid you know
Needing to take a nap, participating in a peaceful Armenian revolution, not wanting to deal with "mean girl" co-workers and forgetting it was Monday are other uncommon excuses HR reps and bosses have reported.

How to handle outrageous excuses for missing work

If an employee continually gives implausible reasons for being absent, overlooking the situation can lead to more trouble for a business. Instead, take these actionable steps to handle the situation:

  • Address the absenteeism: According to HR consultant Deborah Woolridge, managers must confront employees who continually miss work ― for both valid and outrageous reasons. Meet with them to gain insight into their actions and determine what’s going on. They may have personal issues spilling into their work life or may be dissatisfied and looking for another job. Confronting the situation also lets employees know their absences aren’t going unnoticed.
  • Document incidents: When employees give implausible reasons for missing work, it’s important to document each incident. “Managers should keep track by keeping notes with date and time and explanation,” Woolridge advised. Your goal is to nip this behavior in the bud. “A company might quickly want to nip ongoing excuses in the bud because if not addressed, it taints the workplace culture and creates issues with other employees who see this person as getting away with the excuse,” Woolridge cautioned. 
  • Create a disciplinary policy: Established policies that address absences and tardiness can help employers navigate these situations. Decide on an appropriate disciplinary action policy and note when termination is warranted. When you set standards for your business, employees understand your expectations and the consequences of their actions.
  • Reward good behavior: Motivate employees to practice good attendance habits by offering rewards or discretionary bonuses to those who maintain excellent attendance records. Set milestones, such as striving for a perfect attendance record with no unplanned absences within a specific period. 

Best practices for tracking and managing employee attendance

Set your employees up for success by following these best practices for tracking and managing attendance:

  • Categorize excused and unexcused absences: Ensure employees understand the difference between excused absences, such as illness, and unexcused absences, such as a dog birthday party.
  • Offer generous sick leave and PTO: Consider sick leave and PTO policies that genuinely address employees’ needs. Flexible and fair attendance policies can help reduce employee burnout and create a respectful workplace culture.
  • Ask for advance notice: Set a policy that employees must give advance notice (when possible) if they must take time off. For example, if they know a few weeks in advance that they’ll undergo a medical procedure, they should notify their manager ASAP.
  • Track time and attendance: Tracking employee schedules ensures adequate staffing and helps stop employees from abusing company policies. Time and attendance software makes employee attendance tracking easy. However, the best HR software and the best payroll services can also track employee time and manage time off requests.

The best software for tracking attendance and time off

We’ve reviewed many of the best time and attendance software solutions and other platforms that simplify attendance tracking. We recommend the following solutions to small businesses: 

  • TimeClock Plus: TimeClock Plus is a highly customizable time and attendance system that offers standout features, including biometric functions that let employees clock in and out effortlessly. Our TimeClockPlus review explains more about this solution’s advanced scheduling options, including auto-scheduling.
  • Rippling: Rippling is an easy-to-use, web-based time and attendance platform with over 500 third-party integrations and multiple automation features to simplify employee management. Read our Rippling review to learn about its intuitive PTO scheduler for time-off management, job and location-based hour tracking and custom alerts for events like meal breaks and overtime.
  • Paychex: Paychex is a great option for businesses with remote work plans. Employees can clock in and out via a web browser, mobile phone or kiosk app with facial verification. Check out our comprehensive Paychex review to learn about the platform’s interactive voice response system and mobile apps for IOS and Android that help employees manage breaks, time-off requests and communication.
  • Gusto: Gusto is an HR platform that helps employers establish vacation and sick leave policies and track time-off accruals and balances. Some plans let employees apply for time off directly within the Gusto app, where managers can easily approve or deny requests. Our Gusto review explains more about how the platform integrates time-off functions with payroll and shared calendars.
  • When I Work: Employers and employees benefit from When I Work’s innovative time clock and attendance system, which provides simple yet comprehensive time and attendance solutions. Read our When I Work review to learn about the platform’s easy schedule management, including shift swapping and overtime management tools.
  • Zenefits: Zenefits is an HR platform that provides valuable time and attendance features, including employee scheduling and time-off tracking. Our Zenefits review details how employers can create and modify shifts, tailor schedules to specific times or roles and receive automated schedule alerts.
author image
Written By: Sean PeekSenior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
Sean Peek co-founded and self-funded a small business that's grown to include more than a dozen dedicated team members. Over the years, he's become adept at navigating the intricacies of bootstrapping a new business, overseeing day-to-day operations, utilizing process automation to increase efficiencies and cut costs, and leading a small workforce. This journey has afforded him a profound understanding of the B2B landscape and the critical challenges business owners face as they start and grow their enterprises today. In addition to running his own business, Peek shares his firsthand experiences and vast knowledge to support fellow entrepreneurs, offering guidance on everything from business software to marketing strategies to HR management. In fact, his expertise has been featured in Entrepreneur, Inc. and Forbes and with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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