14 Best excuses for being late to work

Updated August 10, 2017

It happens to all of us -- dashing late into the office to be met by the boss's disapproving glare. When you're heading into work late, you need a good excuse. Some good excuses are old standards, while others are startlingly new innovations.


According to a survey conducted by UK job site Career Builder, fully a third of all lateness excuses involve bad traffic. As a result, traffic is a good excuse for lateness, but a little predictable. In addition, if you're making it up, you'll need to make sure that your boss doesn't have the same commute as you.


Oversleeping is another winner, with over 10% of respondents citing this excuse. It's not a fantastic excuse, because it still tends to paint the giver as disorganised or lazy. If used more than once, it helps to add some kind of spin -- "rain came in through a hole in the roof and shorted out the alarm clock," for instance, or "my flatmate slashed the power cord with a knife."

The trains

Complaining about the trains is a great British pastime, and it helps that train companies provide ludicrous excuses of their own, from the infamous "wrong kind of snow" and "leaves on the line" to the ubiquitous signal failure. Again, just remember to be sure you don't take the same train as a co-worker.

Eyedrop errors

If the Big Three of excuses don't work out for you, try something a little more inventive. For instance, one respondent to Career Builder's survey told the tale of an employee who accidentally substituted superglue for contact lens solution and missed work as a result.


Some of the excuses reported by the survey were a little more personal. For instance, one employee explained lateness by saying they had been frightened by a nightmare. This type of excuse could work on a particularly sympathetic employer, but it's not likely to much good for you reputation as a level-headed person.


Other humans may be the main cause of lateness, but the animal kingdom does its share as well. Employees in Britain and the US have reported being late because of zebras running across the road, horses kicking their cars, seagulls colliding with buses and more.


It isn't just wild animals that can cause delay. Reported excuses include having to take the guinea pigs to a kennel, having to put out a cat on fire and more. A cat on fire naturally elicits sympathy, but you ought not to use it twice. The guinea pig story won't produce anything but outrage.

Key troubles

Losing your keys is a very normal reason for being late, but some employees have added new elements to the traditional excuse. For instance, an American worker once reported that he was late because his aggrieved wife had frozen his keys in a glass of water. Again, this isn't the kind of explanation anyone could pull off twice.


A dentist's appointment is a perfectly valid reason for missing work, but some tooth-related excuses are a little more suspect, like the employee who told his boss that he'd made it almost all the way to the office before realising he'd forgotten his teeth.

Calendar confusion

More than one worker has told their employer they were late because they mixed up the date, thinking that a Friday was a Saturday or a Monday a Sunday. This isn't the world's best excuse, since it doesn't exactly speak well of your organisational skills.

Marital miscommunication

One late employee told his superiors that he was late because his wife had wallpapered over the bedroom light switch. This scenario is so hard to imagine that it must be true.

The wrong side of the law

Even the innocent try to avoid run-ins with the police -- among other reasons, they can make you very late for work. The Daily Telegraph reports an employee who was detained by armed police after relieving himself against the wall of the US Embassy in London. Like some of our other excuses, this one doesn't paint a particularly favourable picture of that employee.

Hazards to navigation

Lots of things can make the commute challenging -- but some of the excuses bosses receive stretch credibility a little. For instance, one worker told her employer she got lost in the fog on the way to work. Perhaps she was commuting from Victorian London. Other weather excuses have included volcanic ash and an impending comet impact.

Bizarre accidents

Some excuses are so strange that they just have to be believed, like the late employee who got an arm caught in a drawer, the woman who dropped her keys into a vending machine and the worker who was delayed by the theft of a garden's worth of daffodils.

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About the Author

Dr James Holloway has been writing about games, geek culture and whisky since 1995. A former editor of "Archaeological Review from Cambridge," he has also written for Fortean Times, Fantasy Flight Games and The Unspeakable Oath. A graduate of Cambridge University, Holloway runs the blog Gonzo History Gaming.