If you have to miss work, you have to give a reason. Failing to show up for work can put your reputation at your company—and your job—at risk.
“A ‘no call, no show’ can be grounds for termination in some cases, so it’s important to let someone know you’ll be missing work ASAP,” says Bridget Enggasser, a remote work expert with more than 15 years of experience building hybrid and remote customer-facing teams.
But when it comes to excuses to get out of work, not all excuses are created equal. And if you don’t want your absence to jeopardize your job, you need to make sure that you give a legitimate excuse for why you’re taking time off.
“Giving a legitimate excuse shows you acknowledge that the business needs you there and may suffer in your absence,” says Enggasser. “Showing you acknowledge and care about that is important.”
But what, exactly, are legitimate reasons? Let’s take a look at acceptable excuses for missing work (and some not-so-acceptable excuses)—as well as tips on how to effectively deliver those excuses:
If you wake up in the morning feeling sick, it’s a completely legitimate excuse for missing work that day.
Staying home from work will give you the time you need to rest and recover—and, if you work in person, it can also prevent you (if you’re contagious) from passing an illness on to your coworkers .
“When you’re not feeling well, it is important to recognise what is happening and step back to rest and recuperate,” says Reidy. “Powering through an illness and ignoring what your body needs will not be of benefit to anyone.”
You don’t have to be sick in order for illness to be a legitimate reason for missing work. If someone in your family is sick (like a child or an aging parent), and you need to take care of them—either by staying at home and making sure they have what they need, or taking them to the doctor’s office to get evaluated and treated—that’s a totally reasonable reason to call out of work for the day.
For many people, pets are also family members—so if lil Rover is severely ill, that’s also a legitimate reason to miss work.
Addressing your physical health is a legitimate reason to miss work. But so is taking care of your mental health.
“Taking the time to look after your mental health will always be a legitimate reason to miss work,” says Reidy.
If you’re struggling with a mental health-related issue—whether that’s depression, anxiety, or just feeling overwhelmed or burned out—it’s one of the most legitimate excuses for missing work. And the good news? Many organizations are recognizing the importance of mental health and well-being—so your company might have PTO days specifically set aside for when you need a mental health break. “Increasingly, organizations are offering mental health days to allow employees the opportunity to rest and regain their energy,” says Reidy.
Another legit reason to miss work? A pre-scheduled appointment.
Now, keep in mind, not every appointment gives you a get-out-of-work free card; your boss probably won’t be happy if you call out of work for an appointment with a hairstylist, a wedding planner, or a personal trainer. But if you have an important appointment that can only be scheduled during work hours—like a doctor’s appointment, dentist appointment, or a meeting at your child’s school—that appointment is a legitimate reason to miss part or all of the work day.
Losing a loved one is one of the hardest experiences a person can go through. If you lost someone close to you, you’ll likely need time and space to grieve—and that may include calling out of work.
Dealing with the immediate aftermath of a death (for example, planning or attending a funeral) is a legitimate reason to miss work. And even after the initial fog clears, taking a day off because you’re having a hard or emotional day is also completely reasonable.
Emergencies are another legitimate excuse to call out of work. In fact, they might be one of the best excuses to miss work without notice since you can’t plan for an emergency. They happen at the last minute—and, as such, you can only call out at the last minute when you’re in an emergency situation.
There are a number of things that could qualify as a personal emergency; for example, you or a family member might find yourself with a medical or dental emergency. Or, there may be an emergency that requires you to leave town at short notice (like an emergency with an out-of-state child at college). You might also find yourself dealing with an unexpected house emergency, like a burst pipe. All of these situations fall under the “emergencies that need immediate attention” umbrella—and, as such, qualify as legitimate excuses for missing work.
Accidents (for example, a car accident, skiing accident, or a fall down the stairs) are also a legitimate reason to miss work. Also, depending on the situation, the accident may be a legitimate excuse for missing work for multiple days; for example, if you get into a serious car accident on the way to work Monday, it’s obviously legitimate to call out of work on Monday—but if you sustained injuries, you may need to miss work for the rest of the week in order to rest and recover.
If you work in an office, an unexpected transportation issue that makes it impossible for you to get to work—for example, a car that breaks down on the highway or an unannounced change to the bus schedule—this could also be considered a legitimate reason to miss work that day. Just keep in mind that this excuse is only really legitimate if it’s limited to truly unexpected—and rare—occurrences. If you’re consistently missing work because of transportation issues, your employer will likely tell you to address those issues and find a more reliable way to get to work.
If you’re a parent, unexpected childcare issues can also be a legitimate reason to miss work. For example, if your child’s regular care provider is sick and can’t take care of your child or if your child is sick and needs to stay home from school.
If there’s a special event in your or your family’s life that you don’t want to miss—like a wedding, graduation, or Parent’s Day at your child’s school—most employers will consider that a legit reason to miss work. (Just make sure that, if you know an event is coming up, you give your boss as much advance notice as possible.)
While not every organization gives employees time off to volunteer, it’s becoming more and more common—so if you want to take time off to give back to your community, ask your boss. Depending on their views on volunteering, they may consider it a perfectly good excuse to miss work.
“Many companies offer time off to devote to volunteering,” says Enggasser. “Check with HR to see if your company is one of them.”
Another legitimate reason for missing work? Fulfilling your civic duties—including jury duty.
In fact, under federal law (more specifically speaking, the Jury System Improvement Act of 1978), if you’re called to serve jury duty, your employer must give you the time off to fulfill your obligation—and, in some states, they also need to compensate you for that time.
While there is no federal law that requires employers grant employees time off to vote, 29 states (and the District of Columbia) do. So, if you live in one of those states and want to cast your vote, your employer has to give you at least a partial day off (generally between 2 and 4 hours) to do so.
Now that we’ve covered legitimate reasons to miss work, let’s jump into the not-so-legitimate reasons.
Some excuses just aren’t a reason to miss work—and if you give your boss that excuse, it could get you in hot water. Those excuses include:
You just don’t feel like it
You’re annoyed with your boss/another colleague
You have an interview at another company
It’s a nice day and you’d rather do an outdoor activity
You want to do something else (for example, go shopping, go to a movie, or see a concert)
You know the right excuses for missing work (and the wrong excuses). Now, let’s go into some tips for how to call out of work without it negatively impacting your job.
Whatever the reason you need to take time off, that request is going to be received more favorably when your boss views you as a good employee—so make sure that you’re doing what it takes to be viewed as such.
“The truth is, any request for time off is reasonable if you approach your work with mutual respect,” says Barbara Palmer, workplace leadership consultant and founder of Broad Perspective Consulting. “If your employer sees that you prioritize your role, meet deadlines, are open to and responsive to feedback, and deliver what is expected of you, then a request for time off would be rooted in that same level of respect.”
If you know ahead of time that you’re going to need time off, make sure to give your boss as much notice as possible. That way, they can plan for your absence and make sure it has the least impact possible (for example, by shifting a meeting or asking one of your team members to manage your client load for the day).
And if you don’t know ahead of time—and your time off is a result of something unplanned and unexpected (like an illness or an accident)? Just let your boss know ASAP.
“Contact your manager as soon as you know you will not be available to work,” says Palmer.
No matter what your excuse for missing work, it’s important that, when you call out, you follow any policies or procedures in place at your company. Otherwise, your time off request might slip through the cracks—and you might find yourself dealing with an upset boss and/or facing disciplinary action.
For example, if your PTO policy says that all time off requests need to be submitted to HR, don’t submit yours to your direct manager. If the policy states that all employees must call their manager directly to let them know they’ll be missing work for the day, don’t send an email or a Slack message.