5 of the Best Reasons To Miss Work (And 4 of the Worst)

Updated September 22, 2023

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At some point in your career, you might need to take time off from work unexpectedly. While employers generally prefer team members follow an attendance policy of scheduling preapproved time off, most also recognize the occasional need to miss work without advance notice.

In this article, we go over both good and bad reasons to miss work and share tips on requesting unplanned time off from your employer.

5 acceptable reasons to miss work

There are many reasons you might miss work, such as illness, family emergencies, transportation issues or important appointments. While many are legitimate for taking time off, some can appear unprofessional or irresponsible—especially if you use the same reason habitually.

Here are a few good reasons to take time off without notice:

1. Illness

If you’re not feeling well, it’s best not to go to work. Not only can working while ill worsen your condition, but if you’re contagious, you could also infect your coworkers. If you call into work for this reason, it’s important to let your employer know as soon as you’re not feeling well and check back in near the end of the day to let them know if you’re feeling better or will need additional time to recover.

Related: How To Write a Sick Day Email

2. Family emergency or illness

A family emergency could refer to a variety of circumstances, such as a sick child or dependent, a car accident or an unexpected surgery. If you face one of these situations, notify your employer immediately and keep them updated about any plans and arrangements and when you expect to return to work.

Related: 5 Reasons To Take a Personal Day

3. Death of a loved one

When someone close to you passes away, you’ll likely need one or more days off work to grieve. Let your employer know the situation as well as any upcoming dates you may need to take off for funeral arrangements. Keep in mind that many organizations have bereavement policies that allow you to take a certain amount of paid or unpaid time off without it affecting your standing at work.

4. Car trouble/house or apartment issues

Many unexpected issues can keep you from getting to work, such as a burst water pipe or broken transmission. As with other reasons, tell your employer as soon as you discover the problem. If you need to let in a repair person, let your employer know if you’ll be able to complete some work from home or if you plan to return to work later in your shift.

5. Unexpected event

An unplanned (but necessary) doctor’s appointment, a caretaker or childcare issue, and dangerous road or travel conditions are some examples of other unexpected events. Any reasonable circumstance that would prevent you from being able to work that day should be addressed immediately and honestly with your supervisor.

Related: Leave of Absence Letter Request (With Examples)

Inappropriate reasons to miss work

Not all reasons to miss work are valid. The following are typically considered poor reasons for missing time from work:

1. Feeling tired or stressed

While not feeling well-rested can be uncomfortable and lower your motivation level, this is not typically seen as a valid reason for missing work. Doing so can appear irresponsible and unreliable. If you have reasons to believe that your tiredness is a result of burnout or overwork, you may need to make a plan on how to discuss this with your employer to adjust your workload or determine some other course of action.

Related: 4 Acceptable Excuses for Being Late to Work

2. Unhappy in your job

Using dissatisfaction as your reason for missing work could permanently affect your standing and even lead to disciplinary action, such as termination. If you’re feeling dissatisfied or unfulfilled at work, you should schedule a time to talk to your manager and discuss your concerns. If you feel the issues can’t be resolved, consider seeking other employment opportunities that might be a better fit.

3. Poor planning

Everyone makes mistakes. Your employer may forgive an occasional error such as arriving late or missing a meeting because your car ran out of gas. But if you regularly oversleep or forget your scheduled shift start times, your employer may think you’re unmotivated, unorganized or unreliable. Use your occasional error as a lesson for the future. For example, you may need to set reminders for your shifts, get to bed earlier or invest in a more reliable alarm clock.

Related: 10 Tips for a Better Work-Life Balance Now (That Actually Work)

Tips for when you have to miss work

Before you call your employer, be prepared with your talking points. Here are a few tips to ensure you don’t negatively impact your reputation when requesting unplanned time off:

1. Be honest but don’t overexplain 

When it comes to giving reasons for missing work, it’s always best to be truthful but don’t overexplain. You may feel some details are too personal to share with your employer, such as specific information about your health, legal concerns or family issues. In those situations, it’s best not to overshare. Remember, you only have to tell your employer what they need to know. For example, if you have to miss work because you’re sick, you don’t need to go into the details of your symptoms. You can simply say “I have the flu” or “I’m not feeling well.” However, if you are missing work due to illness, keep in mind some employers will require you to bring in a doctor’s note to verify the merit of your absence.

Related: How To Maintain Professional Integrity in the Workplace

2. Contact your employer as soon as possible 

If you have to miss work for any reason, it’s important you contact your employer as soon as you can. When requesting time off from work, always follow any established company policy. For example, some employers may require you to email your direct supervisor and copy the HR manager. Otherwise, contact your manager as soon as you know you won’t be available for your scheduled shift. If you choose to call or text your manager first, follow up with an email to make a written record of your request.

3. Have a plan for covering missed work 

When you have to take time off work unexpectedly, you may fall behind on a project or need other team members to fill in for you in your absence. Come up with a plan for how you intend to handle the situation and share your ideas with your manager. For example, if you’re missing a shift and need a coworker to cover your time, you may offer to work a shift for them in the near future. If you’re missing a critical meeting or presentation and a colleague has to fill in for you, be sure to send them all the pertinent details and materials. Creating a plan shows your employer that you’re responsible and dedicated.

4. Share updates as needed

In some cases, you may be facing a situation where you’re unsure about the near future or when you can return to work. For example, if you or someone close to you is afflicted with a sudden illness, it’s important to keep your employer updated as the situation progresses and that you notify them of plans or arrangements as they come to fruition. If you or someone in your immediate family is severely or chronically ill, you may need to discuss taking a leave of absence.

Related: Excused Absence vs. Unexcused Absence (Definition and Examples)


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