It doesn’t matter how good of an employee you are, at some point in your day-to-day job you’re going to need to skip out on work. You might be feeling sick and want to leave the office, or you simply might want to spend your Friday afternoon in better company.
As a full-time employee, you generally won’t receive much (if any) pushback for wanting to leave early. You’re a reliable and hardworking employee, why should anyone question you when you take a half day or need to get home earlier than everyone else. Also, with this new era of remote work, managers and colleagues are far less judgmental about cutting work short or working on your own time.
But, let’s say, you’re not fully comfortable leaving the office early. Maybe you started a new job or have already skipped work too many times. You don’t want your manager to perceive you as unreliable or lazy, and you don’t want your colleagues to complain about your absence. What you need is a good excuse (real or fake) that is believable and serious enough to not prompt further questions.
Good Excuses to Leave Work
The best excuse is always going to be the truth. We encourage you to be honest when dealing with your employer. If you can’t leave your job early every once in a while without it becoming a management problem, then maybe it’s time to find a new job. While the truth is the gold standard, we also recognise that sometimes the truth can damage your reputation and therefore needs some modification. For example, you’ve already been sick twice this month and a third might be pushing it.
We’ll start with the most acceptable excuses to leave work early — these are more common reasons that come with a semi-serious undertone that your manager will be forced to accept. That being said, it’s up to you to make each of these sound believable. At the bottom of this list, we’ve added some “less ethical” excuses that you should use at your own moral risk.
- No reason - The best excuse is no excuse. This might not apply so much to part-time or casual workers, but if you’re full-time and have a career, you don’t need to give an excuse. If you’re a decent employee, it’s almost guaranteed that your manager will not care if you take the rare afternoon off. Say something like, “hey, I need to head home early today, I’ve got something important to take care of.” You’re not disclosing anything which makes people think it is serious because you don’t discuss serious personal matters with your colleagues. Secondly, you don’t have to lie, and thirdly, you’re being direct about what you want, and your manager will appreciate that. If you are going to use this tactic, mention it in the morning so that you’re not surprising anyone.
- Medical appointment - This can be a strong excuse because everyone recognises that nothing is more important than your health and wellbeing. But if you are using this as a false excuse, use it sparingly (no more than twice a year) because it is serious and can raise questions that will be uncomfortable to explain if not entirely true. A simple checkup isn’t going to cut it. Why? Because you can do that in your lunch break, or on the weekend. A scan or an appointment with a specialist is much better. Because you’ve got to travel across town and the examination can only be done at a certain time, and it also adds more seriousness to the matter. You could say something like, “I’ve been having some stomach pains lately, and my doctor recommended I get some scans done, so we can find out what’s going on.” Again, if you know you are going to leave early, mention this to your manager in the morning.
- Illness - The classic “I’m feeling sick” excuse. On a Monday and Friday, this excuse is far less believable, but as a full-time employee, you can take around 10 days a year unpaid sick leave (in Germany), so you don’t need to feel guilty. If you are hungover or faking, you need to make it seem like you’re unwell (from an illness, not the alcohol). Make some trips to the bathroom, and drop some hints that you’re feeling dizzy or that your stomach is playing up. “Maybe it was something I ate” “My flat mate was sick this week” and so on. If it’s got something to do with the bathroom, and spending a lot of time there, people won’t question it, they’ll just want you to go home. Don’t spring this on everyone at 2 pm on a Friday, try to give a sickly impression from the beginning of the day — plenty of bathroom breaks.
- Family emergency - Use sparingly. If you don’t live near your family, then it’s your girlfriend (or boyfriend) who is sick. This is a good excuse because it’s not about you, it’s about someone you care for. Someone who’s your responsibility. Which means the situation is totally out of your control and you remain blameless. In fact, it makes you seem like a caring and thoughtful person. “I need to pick my son up from school because he’s feeling sick” or “I’m worried about my girlfriend, she’s been in bed all day and I want to check that everything is okay, do you mind if I head off earlier?”
- Home maintenance - We’ll include this with car maintenance too. The excuse is that you’ve got something broken in your home, and you have scheduled at plumber or electrician or builder to fix it. You need to be at home to let them into the apartment. If it’s 3 pm, you’re not making it back to the office, right? If it’s the winter, and you’ve got problems with your heating, that’s serious. People understand that you need to get that sorted asap. In Europe, most people don’t drive, so mechanic excuses don’t go so well. But say you’re in the US or Australia, it’s normal to leave work early to pick up your car from the mechanic.
- Government documents - If you’re living in Europe, then this is not even an excuse. You’ll have to take time out of your working week to receive or update official documents. With such bureaucracy and little technological infrastructure, it’s a requirement to book an appointment and arrive in person at these government offices. In Germany, you need to register your address every time you move. Appointments are rare and often hard to get, so you take what you’re given, and that’s usually during the working week. The same goes for new licenses, you’ve got to take a photo and fill in a bunch of documentation before these offices close (5 pm).
- Bank visit - Much the same as the last reason, banking and finances can be a legitimate way to get off work early. Home loans, loan approvals, all that fun stuff (which can be done online) can also be done in person at the bank. Even better, if you’re in the process of trying to buy a house, you’ll probably be having a lot of these talks with your bank anyway. And your employer will understand this. They’ll understand it’s an important time period in your life where you may need to step out early from time to time. If you’re seventeen, do yourself a favour and pick another excuse.
- Mental health - Some employers actually give a certain about of mental health days. So check your company policy, if they do, then go ahead and cash in on these when you’re feeling burnout or stressed. If your company doesn’t have these days, maybe just say you're feeling sick or use some other excuse. It’s going to feel weird explaining to your manager how you are stress or anxious (especially if you're not). Of course, it’s important, but you don’t want an excuse affecting how people perceive you at work. If your manager believes you're too stressed or anxious, he might reduce your workload and takeaway important projects. That’s not good if you want to progress. If you are genuinely struggling, then this is not an excuse, you should discuss this with your manager and not just take a mental health day.
- Pre-approved time off - He’s a thought, why not schedule time off beforehand? If you know you’ve got something you need to leave early for (legitimate or not) let your manager know a week or two in advance. You don’t need an excuse if you’ve given everyone ample time and are not just springing it on them the moment you decide to leave. Just make sure you remind them about the time off the day before or the morning of.
- Religious observance - Ramadan, Lent – there are a few big religious events that take place throughout the year. Even though they are not accompanied by public holidays, employers generally understand the religious significance and are supportive of those who wish to observe them. But you can’t just make this excuse any time you’d like, it probably has to line up with the correct dates…
- Networking - With some jobs, networking is an essential step in getting ahead. In a sales job or recruiting job, it’s all about who you know and being seen and visible in the community. That could mean meeting clients or potential customers, attending dinners, joining meetups, visiting conferences or workplaces. And for these roles, networking is highly encouraged; therefore an excuse related to networking will probably go over quite well. You could make this excuse work even if you weren’t in a customer-facing role. Take a software engineer, for example, they might want to go to a meetup with other engineering leaders, and it takes place on the other side of town, so they need to leave early. I don’t see why anyone would have a problem with that. Especially if you tie it back to work in some way. The company is represented or your skills are being developed — two things that benefit your company eventually.
[Less ethical excuses 👇]
- You’ve been “robbed” - Don’t worry, you don’t actually get robbed in this scenario. A Redditor suggested this excuse, which happened to work well for him. So, you tell your manager that your neighbour called and said they saw someone suspicion at your property and thought you might have been robbed. “Might have.” You want to head home to check that everything is safe, can you go home early? The next day or week, you can clear it all up quickly by saying it was a false alarm and that your neighbours are old or something.
- COVID scare - This one worked better in the past, but probably still packs a punch these days. We don’t endorse this excuse in any way (if it’s false). This was the most common excuse from 2020 to 2022. People would say, “My partner just tested positive for COVID, and I was with them last night, maybe I’ll go home, take a test and make sure that I’m negative.” And you work from home for the rest of the day. The result is obviously that you are negative and can come back to work the next day/week. No one is hurt and no one really questions. Don’t pull this stunt if your office is super sensitive about germs because it could potentially cancel events, stop people from travelling, send people home from the office that were in contact with you. It’s not cool to ruin anyone's plans so you can skip half a day of work.
Bad Excuses to Leave Work Early
Excuses are neither good nor bad. They are either believable or unbelievable. When we say good, it means you can probably get away with it, and when we say bad, you’re not going to get away with it. The difference comes down to the number of times you’ve used an excuse, if you don’t communicate it well, and if you sound like you’re lying. Your best bet is getting ahead of the excuse (mentioning it early) and keeping in simple and not repeating the same excuse (unless you’re sick).
The bad excuses below are basically just variations of the good excuses above. Not communicated well, cliché, and don’t seem serious enough to leave work. If your employer is cool, you’ll probably still get out of work, but your reputation might take a blow. Take note.
- I have a headache - Yes, headaches can be bad, but headaches are not really a serious thing for a serious workplace. If you really had a headache, you’d just take Aspirin or a pain reliever and get back to work. Problem solved. That what a serious employee would do. It just seems like you want to go home. Instead, try the stomach problem excuse, which is more visible (i.e. bathroom trips).
- I have a stomachache - Again, this is a cliché excuse used by teenagers, and has thus gained a reputation for being mostly false. What is a stomachache anyway? Most stomach problems are accompanied by dizziness, fatigue and bathroom breaks. So better to focus on those other symptoms. We can’t see your stomachache, so how can we evaluate the severity of your condition. Is it a slight tingle or a throbbing agony? Better excuses above!
- I have a family emergency - Family emergencies are fine in small doses. Don’t just say it’s a “family emergency” though. It sounds like there are already too many people involved in this emergency – like the whole family will be there. Be more specific and say, “my child is sick” or “my girlfriend is sick” and they need me to do X. Be careful with these serious reasons because if something ever did happen, you’d want people to believe you and be supportive.
- I have an important delivery coming - There’s no reason to use this excuse in 2023. Firstly, plenty of people are working remote now, so someone else is likely at your home that could receive a package on your behalf. Secondly, it’s a package, which you should have got delivered to the office if it was actually important. And thirdly, it’s a package. If you miss it, what happens? You go to the post office and pick it up on the weekend? Come on. Better to say that you have a plumber or electrician coming over — that’s a more important and timely situation.
- I have a sudden X appointment - Dentist, doctor or therapy appointment – whatever it is, the meeting was arranged beforehand – so it’s not this sudden thing that can just happen coincidentally on a Friday afternoon. Even if it’s false, you should have let your manager know in advance. “Remember that dentist appointment I told you about? Well, it’s today.” Cool, no worries. Do not use this sudden excuse, unless it’s real, and you actually forgot — then apologise and do what you have to do. If you’re going to make it up, use another excuse.
- I have a personal issue to take care of - This excuse is similar to a Family Emergency. Your “personal issue” sounds like a package. What is it? How serious is it? Why can’t you take care of it on the weekend? If someone hits you back with a question like this, what are you going to say to them? Like any of these excuses, if you’re on good terms with your manager, and they like you, you don’t really need an excuse, they are going to let you leave. But if you’re not on good terms, and there’s some distrust, don’t say you have a personal issue or family emergency – you’ve got to be more convincing because you might get questions. The best way to counteract a question is to provide the answer in the first place. “My mother-in-law is flying in from overseas, and I’d like to make a good impression and pick her up from the airport, would you mind if I leave an hour earlier this afternoon?”
The Best Excuse is no Excuse.
The world would be a better place if everyone just ditched the excuses and came clean. And that’s the ideal workplace as well. You can read how it's like to work in specific IT company at Joberty and you should strive to have workplace relationships that support honest communication. You don’t want to be tip toeing around trying to hide the truth because it’s not pretty, or your manager might fly into a fit or rage. Regardless, we know that’s not how the world works and so excuses are a necessary evil to ensure smooth work relationships. We hope after reading this list, you’ve learnt one or two ways to approach this situation better.