7 Good Excuses for Being Late for Work

7 Good Excuses for Being Late for Work

No matter how responsible you are, you will likely be late for work at some point in your life.

Being late not only affects your image at work and the trust of your employer, but it can also affect the productivity and working habits of others.

Regardless of why you are late, it is always best to be honest with your supervisor and sincerely apologize.

There are many reasons for running late and several ways to explain why.

Should You Give an Excuse When Late?

Regardless of why you are late, your supervisor deserves some form of explanation and apology. They may have had to make other arrangements to account for your absence and productivity was likely lost.

The most important thing to do is to be honest about why you are late.

Being late, lying and being caught out in your dishonesty only makes the situation worse. It goes against integrity. All employers want employees they can trust.

When possible, let your supervisor know before you arrive at work if something is going to make you late.

For example, if the train you are on breaks down, email, call or text your work as soon as you can. This way, they are less likely to think you are lying.

If your reason is personal, let your supervisor know that. Tell them there is a valid reason why you are late, but it is personal and you do not feel comfortable discussing it, or that you will discuss it with HR separately.

Honestly and an apology will go a long way towards making things right.

7 Good Excuses for Being Late

While there are many reasons why you may be running late for work, there are generally a few that pop up the most often.

Here are some common reasons for lateness and some scripts for explaining them:

1. Public Transport Issues

If you live or work anywhere that relies heavily on mass transit, you may be late for work more than once.

There are many different reasons mass transit can be running behind schedule. These include:

  • Weather issues
  • Mechanical issues
  • Passenger misbehavior or illness
  • Traffic congestion or accidents

Expecting mass transit to not have any issues during its routes is asking a lot. Try to leave yourself room in your schedule to account for these potential issues, such as by taking an earlier bus.

Example excuses:

I am so sorry, the number 412 bus broke down several blocks south of here. There was not a replacement coming for a while, so I walked, which is why I am late.


I apologize for my lateness, a passenger on the subway became ill and needed medical attention. The subways were stopped while an ambulance came.

These excuses incorporate both a clear, simple explanation of the reason for your lateness, as well as an apology, which indicates you know you may have inconvenienced your supervisor, whether the delay was your fault or not.

2. Traffic

If you live in a big city, traffic can mess up your commute in numerous ways. There may be construction, roads closed for various reasons, major events, accidents and bad general congestion.

In some cases, you can plan around traffic delays.

Check the news the evening before and in the morning before you leave for work. Look for announcements of construction, major events or road closures, then plan a different route to avoid them where possible.

Some car accidents that cause tailbacks can be planned around if they happen before you leave and you find out on the news. Again, changing your route to avoid these as much as possible is best, although if many other drivers are also trying to avoid the accident, the congestion may be bad on your alternate route.

Sudden car accidents cannot be planned around. If you can, and only if it is safe to do so and without breaking any traffic laws, use your phone to find an alternate route.

If you do get stuck in traffic, try to contact your supervisor and explain the situation.

Many phones can have hands-free operation set up so you can send a text or make a phone call with your voice. Set this up before you leave for work.

If you are driving, you should never use your hands to operate your phone, especially not to send a text or email that would require you to look away from the road.

Do not make a habit of arriving late to work due to bad traffic – if the congestion regularly becomes bad enough to make you late for work, this needs to be factored into the length of time you allocate yourself for commuting.

Example excuses:

My apologies, but I am currently stuck on highway 80 and there is a big accident about a mile ahead that just happened. I will do my best to take a different route as soon as I can. I will call you back when I have a time estimate.


My apologies, I am running about 20 minutes late. I did not realize that today was open house day at the university and the roads nearby are packed with cars. See you very soon.

This first explanation begins with an apology, informs the supervisor of your plan to ameliorate your lateness, then promises future information to them.

This will help ease their anxiety and make you seem more competent at problem-solving and communication.

The second explanation does not offer this but explains the lateness is due to a situation entirely out of your control, one that the supervisor can verify.

3. Weather

Depending on where you live, weather can play a major role in your punctuality in the workplace. Heavy snowfall, ice, rain, fog, extreme cold or heat, flooding and even heavy winds can all play a part in your commute to work.

Sometimes these conditions come on suddenly and there is nothing you can do, but always let your boss know you are stuck and will be late.

Sometimes these events can be predicted, such as a snowstorm, and you can try to give yourself extra time or, if agreed with your supervisor, work from home.

Example excuses:

I apologize for getting here late, the fog was so thick this morning, the traffic was crawling along.


I am so sorry, [major intersection] was completely flooded and traffic was diverted through the downtown area. It was very slow-moving, but I finally made it in and am ready to get to work. I will ensure I work my full hours.

Again, these scripts give a succinct reason for your lateness and an apology. Further, the second one emphasizes you are eager to get going with your duties and are willing to make up the time.

Excuses for Being Late for Work
Excuses for Being Late for Work

4. Illness

Illness can never really be predicted. Unless there is stomach flu running through your family, it can take you by surprise.

If you wake in the morning feeling sick, the best thing to do is call or email your boss with your symptoms and stating you will not be able to come in.

Most employers will be happy to keep sickness out of the workplace, especially if you work in the food or hospitality sector, as if you spread the illness to other workers or the customers it may cost the company a lot.

If your supervisor requires a doctor's note, check with human resources as it may not be required until several days are missed.

The time you take off for being sick or caring for a sick family member, whether partial or full days, may be unpaid. You need to check your contract and the local laws of your state.

It may not be your illness that is making you late, but the illness of a member of the family.

For example, sick children cannot go to school or daycare and need to be taken care of. While a babysitter may be an option, it will usually require time to arrange and will still mean you are late for work.

It also may be that your spouse is ill and so you may suddenly need to drop the children off at school or enable your sick spouse to have access to food and drink throughout the day. This may result in you being late.

Example excuses:

I have woken up with a sore throat and fever of 102 degrees, I do not think it is a good idea for me to come into the office today, I do not want to spread this around. I will keep you updated on how I am feeling later.


I am sorry, I am going to be about 20 minutes late, my daughter is home sick and I need to wait for childcare to arrive.

These explanations cover the cause of your lateness, and the first one also offers a future course of action to keep the supervisor informed.

5. Losing an Item

Depending on what it is, losing or misplacing an item can really slow you down in the morning.

It could be something simple like your glasses, phone or even lunch. It could be you need to shuffle the kids off to school and they cannot find something such as lunch, homework or a special project.

It could be something more important such as your house or car keys that are missing. In these instances, you really cannot leave the house until they are found.

Simply email or call your boss and explain the situation, without failing to mention that you will be in as quickly as you can.

Example excuses:

I apologize; I am going to be about 15 minutes late – I misplaced my car keys. But I have found them now and am headed out the door.


I apologize, my son misplaced his science project and we left for school a bit late this morning. I am on my way and estimate to be there in 15 minutes.

Both these explanations are ones you give once the item has been found and you have a more accurate estimate of how late you will be. Giving your supervisor more information like this enables them to plan around your unexpected absence more easily because they know how long it will likely last.

6. You Overslept

It can happen to anyone. Either you heard the alarm and simply hit the off button, you hit the snooze button one too many times or you simply forgot to set it.

Sometimes it can even be a matter of a storm in the night that knocked the power out.

Regardless of how it happened, everyone has slept in when they should not have. When you do awake to find you are late, let your supervisor know immediately.

Depending on the type of job you have, they may have already arranged for someone to cover you, or you may have to still go in.

Example excuses:

I am so sorry; I must have turned off my alarm. I will be in the office within the next hour.


My apologies, the storm last night must have knocked out the power and the alarm did not go off. I am running about 20 minutes behind schedule and will get there as soon as I can.

It is important to let your supervisor know as soon as possible when you have overslept. While the second example here is due to an external factor beyond control, the first example is due to a personal mistake. Therefore, the explanation needs to have a genuine apology and not try to shift the blame to something else.

7. Needed to Arrange Childcare

If you have young children, you likely have school and childcare plans all set. But problems often arise, affecting your ability to get to work on time.

Your child may get sick and therefore cannot go to school or daycare. Or if you rely on a nanny, they may have become ill and so are unable to work.

Do your best to find some childcare and explain it to your supervisor. If you cannot find childcare, it may be an option to work from home or take annual leave.

Example excuses:

Unfortunately, my child's nanny has woken up quite sick and cannot look after her today. I have called my sister who can babysit for the day and will leave as soon as she arrives. I will update you on times once she gets here. In the mean time, I am checking my emails from home if you need anything.


Both of my children woke up with a bad cold. I have a nanny who can come; she is due to arrive in 10 minutes. I will leave then and should only be about 30 minutes late.

Both these scripts give explanations of how you will solve the childcare problem, which helps give the impression that the unexpected situation is under control.

How to Handle Being Late

It is never good to be late, but how you handle it can make a big difference.

There are several steps you can take to make sure you make the right impression with your supervisor:

Estimate How Late You Will Be

It is not only a good idea but also necessary to give your supervisor an idea of how late you will be. If you work a job that someone else could do, they may need to look for a replacement if you are going to be extremely late.

Be realistic about how late you will be. While it may sound good to say you will only be 15 minutes, if you are not able to meet that time frame, do not promise it.

Habitually making promises you can not keep lessens people’s trust in you. Lay out what the issue is and why it will take you a certain amount of time to get to work.

Communicate Early and Directly

Do not wait until you are already late to contact your supervisor. Make contact as soon as you realize that there is a problem and it is possible to do so.

Do not rely on a co-worker to pass on the message either. It can get mixed up or forgotten. Make direct contact yourself to explain the situation.

Be Honest, Concise and Sincere

Even if you think a different excuse might sound better than the truth, be honest with your supervisor. They will appreciate your honesty and a sincere apology.

Conciseness is also important as your supervisor likely feels work time has already been wasted by your unexpected lateness. Therefore, do not say more than you need to or use the time to rant about the stituation.

Apologize in Person

Once you have arrived at work, make a point to find your supervisor and apologize in person.

Not only does it serve to let them know that you have arrived, but it shows you took the lateness seriously enough to apologize face-to-face.

Address Your Responsibilities

Any kind of lateness will likely affect the duties you need to accomplish in your job.

When you are late, it is important to assess what you are now behind on and prioritize what needs to be taken care of first.

It is also very possible that your lateness has affected the productivity of others.

Check with your co-workers to find out what they need from you and get it to them as soon as you can.

Communicate Future Intentions

You want to make sure your supervisor knows that this late incident will not become a regular occurrence.

Either speak directly with your supervisor or communicate by email that you are aware of the lateness and will do your best to make sure it does not happen again.

Briefly explain any plans to reduce the chances of future lateness.

Thank Them

Your boss is only obligated to do as much as the law requires, so if they are more understanding or lenient than that, be sure to show your thanks.

Follow Up

It can be a good idea to follow up with an email once you are back at work. A simple email that says thank you for understanding and you will do your best to not be late again. Also, if it is not possible to see your supervisor in person, this can let them know you have arrived.

Make up the Time

Any kind of lateness likely has an impact on your productivity and possibly others as well.

Ask your supervisor if they would like you to make up the time – if you were only 20 minutes late, they may not mind, but if it was more in the vicinity of two hours, they may want you to finish some work after you would normally leave for home.

This is not always possible, particularly if you rely on mass transit, but there may be other ways to balance it.

Do’s and Don’ts

There are a few things that are important to remember when making your excuse:

  • Do be honest about why you are late. A lie simply makes the situation much worse.

  • Do not suck up to your supervisor by bringing coffee or treats to sway their feelings your way. In the worst case, this could be seen as bribery, which is illegal. In the best, it could damage their respect for you as it shows you do not believe in your explanation to be sufficient or perhaps even valid.

  • Do not distract the rest of the staff with dramatic renditions of why you are late or distrupt things by making a flamboyant or noisy entrance. They have work to do too. Save that for break times.

  • Do acknowledge that being late is your responsibility rather than passing the blame to someone or something else.

Final Thoughts

Being late for work is never ideal, but it happens to everyone. How you deal with it can easily make an awkward situation better.

First, remember to always be honest about why you are late. Explain your situation, give a clear estimate of how late you will be and acknowledge that you will need to catch up, so you do not affect the productivity of your fellow employees.

Following these steps and the others outlined above should help you deal with any lateness situation.

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