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What to Do When You Are Late for a Job

by Lisa McQuerrey, studioD

Running late for a job is unprofessional. It can force your colleagues to cover for you, inconvenience clients and customers, and give your boss the impression that you're unreliable. Make every effort to manage your time appropriately so that being late for work is a rare occurrence, rather than a regular habit.


If you know you're going to be late, call the appropriate parties to let them know. For example, if your car breaks down as you're headed to the office, call your manager and let him know. If you're a teacher running late to class, call the office administrator so she has time to bring in a substitute or enlist another teacher to keep an eye on your classroom. Whatever your circumstances, contact the proper people to let them know you’re running late and when they can expect you to arrive.


Enlist someone to cover you, if possible. For instance, if you're an office receptionist, ask a colleague if she can forward incoming calls to her own phone until you arrive. If you're a real estate agent late for a house showing, ask another agent to meet your clients at the property to let them in and tell them you're on your way. Getting someone to cover for you shows you're taking responsibility for being late, and that you want to resolve the situation. Be sure to thank the person who temporarily takes over your work responsibilities.


Apologize to everyone you inconvenienced and offer an explanation. For instance, you may have had car trouble, a sick child to manage, accidents or detours on the road, or another work appointment that runs late. These are viable reasons. Avoid saying you lost track of time or that you forgot about the obligation. These excuses establish you as someone who is self-centered and unconcerned about the way your actions negatively impact others.


Being late for work, on the rare occasion, is something every boss understands, particularly if you have a valid reason. Being habitually tardy can damage your professional reputation, and even hold you back from career advancement. It can also create resentment among colleagues who feel you're getting special treatment or taking advantage of others. If you have a serious time management or organizational problem, look for ways to improve in these areas. For instance, try setting more than one alarm to notify you of an upcoming appointment.

About the Author

Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.

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