‘There’s a zebra on the road’ and other memorable late-to-work excuses

By Susan Ricker, CareerBuilder writer

There are times when the real world doesn’t go along with your plans, like when you miss every light on your way to work, the trains are delayed or the weather makes it impossible to move at a normal speed. These common occurrences are a mildly frustrating way to start your workday, but as isolated experiences go, they’re not too bad.

Then there are the regularly late workers who always hit the snooze button, spend too much time in the bathroom getting ready or manage to get a coffee but consistently miss the beginning of work. These are the workers who ruin it for the rest of us.

In a new nationwide CareerBuilder study, more than 3,000 full-time, private sector workers and more than 2,000 hiring managers and human resource professionals across industries and company sizes were asked about coming in late and what’s OK, what’s not OK and what’s downright strange.

Check out how your habits compare to that of workers across the country, whether your boss is more lenient or strict than others, and also read the wildest late excuses managers have heard.

Blame it on traffic
Though it’s a regular part of our schedule, workers across the country are occasionally late surprisingly often. Nearly one quarter (23 percent) of employees admit to being tardy at least once a month on average, with 15 percent admitting to arriving late at least once a week.

And what’s holding us back from getting to work? Traffic remains the most common reason employees say they’re late (39 percent), followed by lack of sleep (19 percent), problems with public transportation (8 percent), bad weather (7 percent) and dropping the kids off at daycare or school (6 percent).

These are all situations common enough that your employer might be sympathetic. But the quickest way to lose their trust is to make a habit of being late, which can lead to consequences.

Don’t be a repeat offender
Knowing your company policy on when to arrive for work will help clarify your manager’s expectations, as well as help you avoid trouble. What’s the worst thing that can happen if you’re late? It turns out, you could lose your job: 35 percent of employers have fired an employee for tardiness, and 48 percent of employers expect their employees to be on time every day.

Other employers have more relaxed policies. Thirty-four percent say they allow employees to be late every once in a while, as long as tardiness doesn’t become a pattern, and 18 percent don’t care how their employees manage their time, just that they get their work done well.

“Most employers understand that occasionally things pop up and cause employees to be behind schedule. The trouble comes when tardiness becomes a habit,” says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder. “Employees who are often late should consider regularly checking the weather forecast for their commute, setting up alerts from any public transportation they use or getting more done the night before so they’re not rushed in the morning.”

Most memorable late excuses
If you’re running late, it can be courteous to let your boss know. However, you may want to rehearse what you’ll say before you actually say it. Whether it’s real or not, if an excuse sounds too wild to be true, your boss is probably going to have a hard time being sympathetic.

Employers shared some of the most memorable excuses they’ve received from employees who were running late, including:
•Employee claimed a zebra was running down the highway and held up traffic (turned out to be true)
•Employee woke up on the front lawn of a house two blocks away from his home
•Employee’s cat got stuck in the toilet
•Employee couldn’t eat breakfast — he ran out of milk for cereal and had to buy some before getting ready for work
•Employee was late to work because he fell asleep in the car when he got to work
•Employee accidentally put superglue in her eye instead of contact lens solution, and had to go to the emergency room
•Employee thought Halloween was a work holiday
•Employee said a hole in the roof caused rain to fall on the alarm clock and it didn’t go off
•Employee was watching something on TV and really wanted to see the end
•Employee forgot that the company had changed locations
•Employee got a hairbrush stuck in her hair
•Employee was scared by a nightmare

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Susan Ricker is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

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Story Filed Thursday, February 20, 2014 – 11:33 AM

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