Weekly Wrap: Are These Really the Best Excuses For Being Late?


Over the years, I’ve heard all sorts of excuses from people late to work — some reasonable, some silly, some infuriating.

One of my all-time favorites is the time I had a problematic employee fail to show up to work, only to be told by one of my editors that “Lee” was actually around but that he was out sleeping in his car.

In the company parking lot. At 9:30 in the morning.

After we woke him and got him into the office, he had a classic excuse: he had a rough night, didn’t get much sleep, and thought no one would mind if he napped for a few minutes before starting work.

When I pointed out to him that his “brief” nap had made him more than 40 minutes late, he said, “well, I forgot to set my alarm clock.”

Some 26% are late at least once a month

So as you can see, I have an affinity for bad excuses. That’s why CareerBuilder’s annual survey of the year’s “most outrageous excuses for arriving to work late” is something I look forward to each year, because I find that excuses for being late are mostly an exercise in creativity and over-the-top chutzpah

The CareerBuilder survey, conducted online by Harris Interactive from Nov. 1 to Nov. 30, 2012,  included more than 2,600 hiring managers and more than 3,900 workers nationwide. Among the top-line findings: More than a quarter (26 percent) of workers admit to being tardy at least once a month, and 16 percent are late once a week or more.

Traffic is the most common culprit causing tardiness according to 31 percent of worker, surveyed by CareerBuilder. Other factors include lack of sleep, the need to drop off the kids at daycare or school, bad weather and public transportation delays.

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Most memorable excuses for being late to work

But not all employees blame jammed roads. Hiring managers surveyed shared some of the most memorable excuses they’ve heard from employees who were late getting to the office, including:

  • An employee dropped her purse into a coin-operated newspaper box and couldn’t retrieve it without change (which was in the purse).
  • An employee accidentally left the apartment with his roommate’s girlfriend’s shoes on and had to go back to change (I give this one an “A” for creativity).
  • Employee’s angry wife had frozen his truck keys in a glass of water in the freezer.
  • Employee got a late start because she was putting a rain coat on her cement duck in her front yard (because rain was expected later that day.
  • An employee’s car wouldn’t start because the breathalyzer showed he was intoxicated (how dumb is this one?)
  • An employee attempted to cut his own hair before work and the clippers stopped working, so he had to wait until the barber shop opened to fix his hair.
  • Employee’s car was attacked by a bear (had photographic evidence).
  • Employee drove to her previous employer by mistake.
  • Employee claimed to have delivered a stranger’s baby on the side of the highway.

A third of managers have fired someone for being late

“Employers understand that every now and again circumstances will arise that are out of a worker’s control and unfortunately cause a late arrival to work,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of Human Resources at CareerBuilder, in a press release about the survey. “It escalates to a problem when the behavior becomes repetitive, causing employers to take disciplinary action. More than one-third of hiring managers reported they had to fire someone for being late.”

The “attacked by a bear” excuse was interesting to me because I used to work in Montana near Glacier National Park where there were a lot of bears, particularly in the summer months, but I never got an excuse like this one even though it might have worked there.

Still, I wonder: are these really the best excuses for being late? I’d love to have TLNT readers weigh in on this, because somehow, I bet you have excuses that are not only more entertaining but also show a lot more chutzpah as well.

Some really honest job descriptions

Of course, there’s a lot more than another survey about how HR professionals at big companies are faring in the news this week. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • California’s high court limits back pay in bias lawsuits. Here’s another one from California that may end up as a nationwide trend: according to a report in the Los Angeles Times, “Even if discrimination plays a role in a worker’s firing, an employer will not be liable for back pay or other compensation if the employee would have been fired anyway for poor performance, the California Supreme Court decided Thursday. … In the past, employees could receive compensation, including back pay and damages, and win reinstatement if they could prove that discrimination was “a motivating factor” in a firing. Now, employees will have to show that bias was a substantial motive, and the employer will then get the chance to argue that performance alone would have resulted in the worker’s termination.”
  • What a modern manufacturing worker needs to have. Manufacturing is slowly returning to the U.S., but the question remains, do we have workers with the right skill set to do the job? General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt gave The Wall Street Journal a list of the three top qualities GE needs in manufacturing workers: computing ability, team skills, and a lot of hands-on training. “Immelt says 600,000 jobs are available today in advanced manufacturing for people with those skills. GE, as a large company, can train workers for its specific needs and doesn’t expect to find them on the street. ‘That’s us,’ he said. ‘But every small- and medium-sized business is not going to be able to afford to do that. We’ve got to build the systems up so that everybody can have that kind of capability.’ ”
  • Really honest job descriptions. NPR’s Planet Money blog “asked people on Twitter to tell us what their job really is.” The responses are funny, sad, and insightful. My favorite: “Act as a go- between for people who don’t/won’t talk to each other.”
  • The rapid growth of part-time work. The number of part-time workers is growing, and it may very well grow a lot more as companies look to avoid Obamacare. And as the Los Angeles Times points out, it’s growing rapidly in a lot of states like California. “That trend is particularly pronounced in the Golden State,” the Times said, “which saw the number of involuntary part-time workers swell to 1.3 million, up 126 percent from 585,100 in 2006. Only four other states, Nevada and Florida among them, had higher rates of involuntary part-time workers. Various industries are increasingly relying on part-time workers and other contingent employees, such as temporary workers, to save money, said Michael Bernick, a Milken Institute fellow who studies labor markets. ‘As you have more and more costs associated with full-time workers in terms of health care or other costs, employers look for alternative ways to reduce costs,” Bernick said. “One way is on-demand and part-time work.’ “
  • Social media, easily and simply explained. Ever wonder what social media really is? Howard Bailen, a PR and media relations pro extraordinaire, sent this simple explanation along. You may find it amusing, as I did.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


2 Comments on “Weekly Wrap: Are These Really the Best Excuses For Being Late?

  1. Your item about being late made me fondly remember a time at my last job, where a co-worker was late. Actually so late that we eventually called him midway through the day to make sure he was OK. He said he forgot what day it was — he thought it was a holiday. I think he made it in around 1.

  2. I think the cement duck person lives in Bham, AL. That thing was dressed up ever single holiday, major and minor, as well as according to the weather. A daily delight to drive by en route to work.

  3. Hi John!

    Amazing article again the time flies right?
    Actually so late that we eventually called him midway through the day to make sure he was OK. He said he forgot what day it was amazing — he thought it was a holiday. I think he made it in around one

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