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  1. Blog
  2. Career Development
  3. September 22, 2021

10 Reasonable Excuses to Miss Work (& How to Tell Your Manager)

Communicate the unexpected

Woman wearing an apron and leaning against a door frame
Photo courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio

We all need unexpected time off work sometimes, whether an emergency comes up or you got a bad case of food poisoning. Every company is different, so there are a few ways to handle these situations.

Some managers may regularly remind you of all that paid time off you’re building up, making sure you take your personal or vacation days each month. But, some workplaces just aren’t as flexible on what you can do, even if they offer you a certain amount of time off. There could be lots of different expectations about actually using it.

So, adapt this advice to your own place of work. In general, to stay in your employer’s good graces, you should always:

  • Avoid calling in at the last minute.

  • Pay attention to how much you’re taking off each month.

  • Ask your manager when you have questions.

  • Watch how other people are handling time off at your job (and how management reacts).

  • Avoid lying or fabricating an illness or family death.

  • Avoid posting on social media if you are still out doing things on a sick day.

  • Give your manager just enough information and not too much explaining.

  • Have a plan for any project or deadline you’re missing.

  • Avoid telling your boss you are hungover or forgot to come in.

Remember that not all days off require an excuse. For instance, personal days should be used however you want them, even if that means you’re going to the spa. But if it’s last minute, you need to have a good reason.

Read more: Unlimited PTO: As Good As It Sounds?

Here are 10 acceptable excuses to miss work and how to share them with your manager. 

1. Personal illness

The most common reason to call into work is sickness. If you’re feeling ill, have a fever, or can’t keep your breakfast down, everyone will appreciate you staying home. Even if you work remotely, ask for the day off so you can rest.

Contact your manager as soon as you know you need to take off. Keep it short and sweet, something like: “I have a fever so I won’t be able to work today.” Keep your manager updated about your condition each day.

2. Family emergency

Unexpected crises happen all the time that may keep you from being at work. Maybe a family member got into an accident or someone is in the hospital with a serious illness. Perhaps a nurse didn’t show up for your aging parent and you have to step in for care that day. Sometimes it’s absolutely enough to tell your boss: “I’m dealing with a family emergency and can’t come in today.” 

Depending on expectations and your relationship, you may want to give a few other details so they know what’s going on and how long you may be out.

3. Death of a loved one

Lots of organizations have dedicated bereavement leave when a close family member passes away. Even if your job doesn’t offer this benefit, they will hopefully understand if you’re not at work following a death. Tell your manager as soon as you can about what’s happened, or have a friend or other family member let them know. 

Check in when you can and tell them when services will be held and when you may want to come back to work. Hopefully, they will work with you on a realistic timeline that feels comfortable to you.

4. Medical appointment

It’s important to have regular checkups, whether with a general physician, dentist, eye doctor, OBGYN, or other specialist. Don’t be afraid to tell your manager that you have to miss work to take care of these appointments since they are crucial to maintaining your health and wellbeing. 

5. Car trouble

Sometimes there’s no way to get to work when your car breaks down or you’re in an accident. Even if you’re unharmed, you still have to deal with your insurance company and car repairs, so you need time to get these details worked out. 

Simply tell your manager what’s going on: “My car won’t start so I have to take it to the shop. I’ll keep you posted.” You may be able to rent a car or get a ride after that, but always let them know.

6. Public transportation issue

Hopefully, a delayed bus or train won’t impact your entire day, but sometimes there’s nothing you can do except wait. Text or Slack your manager that there are significant issues and that you’ll be there as soon as you’re able. You can also send them a screenshot of public transit alerts or news articles to show them why you’re not there.

7. Home emergency

Especially if you own your home, there are always unexpected issues to take care of. If a pipe bursts or your basement is flooding, you need to deal with it now. Tell your boss the situation: “I woke up to a flooded basement so I have to be here when the workers arrive.” 

8. Mental health issue

You may need a personal day here and there for your mental health. Or, maybe you’re dealing with a condition and can’t imagine going into work. Don’t feel any shame or hesitation about calling in when you are struggling. Simply tell your boss that you’re having a hard time with a mental or emotional issue and are unable to come to work. You could also say, “I really need a mental health day today.”

If it’s an ongoing problem and you’re unsure when you’ll be back, you should meet with them to discuss options for a disability absence or other arrangement.

9. Child care problems

Parents have to deal with ensuring their children are cared for during the day before they can get themselves to the office. When a babysitter doesn’t show up, there’s not much some people can do on the spot to get care. Tell your boss you have no other option and need to stay with your child.

10. Pet emergency

Sometimes you can’t get to the office if your dog or cat needs immediate medical care. If it’s a last-minute need, send your boss a message that your pet’s condition is worsening and they need to see the vet right away. Otherwise, you may want to ask in advance about taking time off for a vet appointment, though some workplaces won’t mind you using personal time for routine check-ups.

Read more: All You Need To Know About Taking a Leave of Absence

About the author

Photo of Meredith Boe

Meredith Boe


Meredith Boe is a writer, editor, and grant writer, and a regular contributor to InHerSight. Her writing focuses on working women, self-employment, small businesses, finance, and legal, in addition to her literary criticism, poetry, and creative prose. She holds a master's degree in writing and publishing from DePaul University, and her bylines include the GoDaddy Garage, The Chicago Reader, and the Chicago Review of Books.

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