It happens all the time. One second, you’re going about your day planning the rest of your evening after your shift ends, and the next, you’re frantically trying to get your work to a decent stopping point because you have got to get out of there, and you need to do it fast.
It could be because you aren’t feeling well, or maybe you’ve received an important phone call. Whatever the reason, it’s looking like you’re going to have to leave the office early. Days like these can be really inconvenient, but sometimes you have to take care of you, not work — and that means cutting out before quitting time. If you have a reasonable boss, the following instances are times when it's legitimate to leave work early.
Good reasons to work early.
1. “I’m sick.”
Sometimes, these things come on suddenly. Maybe you felt a little extra drowsy when you woke up that morning but didn’t think much of it until you were suddenly feverish or nauseated after lunch. Either way, most of the time your boss will be sympathetic when they can tell you’re under the weather.
This can be an especially good reason to leave early if you work around food because you could contaminate it. Furthermore, people are generally more productive when they aren’t struggling to breathe, throwing up and feverish, so your boss will probably be more than okay with seeing you go home an hour early to go take care of yourself if it means you can get back to working effectively sooner.
2.“I have a doctor’s appointment.”
I know that I always try to schedule my appointments on my days off, but sometimes, that’s impossible — my doctor is booked solid and only has one opening that happens to fall within the last hour or so of my shift. If I want to get in, I have to make the appointment then so that my health won't get even worse. In my experience, as long as I give my boss advance notice of the appointment, it's not an issue.
3. “I have a family emergency.”
This has happened to me a few times. Sometimes, it’s the daycare calling to get me to come pick up my little one early because he's come down with a fever. Other times, it was that my grandma was taken to the ER, and I was the only one available to be with her. Every family is different, and therefore these situations will vary, but in a genuine family emergency, most managers will understand if you have to step out a bit early. Just keep in contact with your boss if it looks like this emergency might result in more time off work. If you’re going to be needed at home, it’s always important to communicate that as soon as you know.
4. “My babysitter is having an emergency.”
These may not be emergencies per se, but sometimes daycare or the school might have to close early. Or, if you’re child isn’t in school yet, maybe it’s that the babysitter has had an emergency of their own and needs to leave as soon as possible. Obviously, in these cases, your child cannot be left unattended, so it’s probably going to be understandable if you have to make a hasty exit.
5. “I need time to take care of my mental health."
Sometimes, life is just hard, and I think it’s safe to assume that most people have had a day where they were just barely able to get themselves together enough to make it into work, only to have an incredibly difficult day where everything that could possibly go wrong seems to have…well, gone wrong.
I actually had one of these days recently. I’ve had some financial hardships lately that have affected my mental health, and I've consequently also caused some issues at work. Yesterday, everything kind of came to a head and when I had to excuse myself a little early, my boss was very understanding.
Depending on your work culture, you may be able to tell your boss outright that you're feeling depressed, anxious or another mental state; however, this may not fly in your office, so you'll have to tailor your ask to what's appropriate where you work.
6. “I need to change my clothes.”
Accidents happen. Whether it's female related (like when Aunt Flow visits with a vengeance), or you dropped a caramel latte down your shirt and now are a sticky mess, sometimes a paper towel and water clean up just won't do it. Word of warning — this often works better in environments where you can continue to work from home, otherwise, you may be asked to change and return to work.
7. “There’s an emergency at home.”
Sometimes, we have family emergencies, and other times, things just go wrong at home. If you’ve gotten an alert from your security system that your alarm has gone off or there'ss been some kind of flooding issue, that’s probably a safe excuse to head out a little early. It’s perfectly understandable that you would want to deal with situations like these before they escalate, so most managers will be okay with you clocking out a little early.
8. "There are adverse weather conditions."
Depending on where you're living this one can be a really good reason to go home or a kind of bad one. I live down south, where if there is any indication of snow the schools start delaying and everyone floods the grocery stores for things like bread and milk — don’t ask me why, I've lived here most of my life and I still don’t fully understand the milk thing — so it’s safe to say that most bosses are willing to either shut down the entire office early or allow you to go home if there is any weather that will inhibit your ability to drive home safely. Of course, from my understanding, things are a bit different in places like New Hampshire, where it snows very frequently, so obviously this example might not fit everyone. However, if it’s not snow, it could be flooding or a tornado (which we had last week). Either way, take into account what is considered adverse weather beyond what you’re used to dealing with, and if the roads could pose a risk to your safety, it’s probably a decent reason to head home.
Bad reasons for leaving work early.
1. You want to go “tailgating.”
In North Carolina, it seems like fewer things encourage more excitement than tailgating. It could be your kid’s high school football game or your alma mater's basketball game. Whatever it is, you may be tempted to try and slip out of work early so you can enjoy the “pre-game.” Unfortunately, unless you've previously discussed the possibility of leaving early with your boss or perhaps even put in a formal request for time off, this isn't really a great reason to leave work early.
2. You'd rather be spending time with your significant other.
Sometimes, you would just rather be at home snuggling with your partner. Unfortunately, just wanting to go home early to spend time with them isn’t really a great excuse for leaving work early. I mostly see this with teenagers working in retail or customer service who “have” to leave work to see their boyfriend/girlfriend, but I've heard adults say this too. Unless your significant other is away frequently, it's not likely that your boss will love this excuse for leaving early, so you should probably just stick it out.
3.“I don’t have anything else to work on.”
Believe it or not, I’ve heard people say this a few times. But even though you might be at a good stopping point, it's never a great idea to imply that you don't have anything else to do. Most likely, your boss will point out things that you could be doing to get ahead for the next day or, even worse, wonder if your job is necessary if you don't have enough work, so it's probably just best to not use this one.
4. “I just want to go home.”
This one might seem a little on the nose, but a lot of times, I'll see people list off all of the reasons why their day has been less than ideal and end with “So, can I please just go home? I just want to go home.” I've seen this wish granted occasionally, but even when the manager did agree, everyone complained about how unprofessional it was for that person to leave early. After all, wouldn’t we all like to leave a little early? So, I wouldn’t really say this unless you're prepared for the backlash.
Can you get fired for leaving work early?
Most likely, if you only leave early occasionally, always practice good communication and give advance notice when possible, you won't be fired for leaving early. However, if you have a tendency to dip out of the office early a lot, that could pose a problem that, should it persist, could lead to termination.
There are plenty of reasons why someone might have to leave the office early on occasion, and as long as you're honest and only do so when it's really important, it’s not something you should worry about too much.