We’ve all been there at one point or another– that dreaded moment when you look over at your alarm clock and realize you should have been up for work an hour ago (why does that snooze button have to be so easy to press?  It should have a code to turn it off or something!)  No amount of speed showering  or putting mascara on in the car will get you out of this one– you’re going to be late for work.  So do you call your boss and fess up, or do you sit and dream up an excuse?

For one reason or another, many employees decide to throw the “honesty is the best policy” notion out the window and try and cook up something that they feel might lessen their slap on the wrist.  Excuses range from the moderately believable to the completely absurd.  CareerBuilder’s “The Hiring Site” blog recently posted an article by Amy Chulik highlighting some of the strangest excuses for being late for work of 2011.

2011 versus 2010

The percentage of workers arriving late to work has increased slightly from last year, according to the nationwide survey, conducted by Harris Interactive© among more than 7,000 U.S. employees and 3,000 employers: 16 percent of workers reported they arrive late to work once a week or more, up from 15 percent last year. 2010 represented a dip in late workers, perhaps in part due to aftershocks of the recession and workers fearing losing their jobs over tardiness; 2011′s increase may reflect the fact that hiring has starting to pick up this past year and workers aren’t as worried about repercussions.

Here are 2011′s most unusual (and very candid) excuses for being late to work, rounded up from hiring managers themselves:

  1. “My cat had the hiccups.”
  2. “I thought I had won the lottery.” (She didn’t.)
  3. “I had to take a personal call from the state governor.” (This also turned out to be true).
  4. “I got distracted watching the TODAY Show.”
  5. “My angry roommate cut the cord to his phone charger, so it didn’t charge and my alarm didn’t go off.”
  6. “I believe my commute time should count toward my work hours.”
  7. “A fox stole my car keys.”
  8. “My leg was trapped between the subway car and the platform.” (This turned out to be true.)
  9. “I wasn’t late because I had no intention of getting to work before 9:00 a.m.” (His start time was 8:00 a.m.)
  10. “I was late because of a job interview with another firm.”

The main causes for late arrivals to the office (aren’t so unusual)

Traffic, sleep schedules and weather conditions are the top three boring causes for late arrivals to the office, according to workers:

  • 31 percent said they were delayed by traffic
  • 18 percent said they were late due to lack of sleep
  • 11 percent blamed the bad weather
  • 8 percent said they were delayed because of getting their kids to daycare/school
  • Other common reasons included: public transportation, spouses, watching TV or using the Internet, wardrobe issues, or dealing with pets. (With the frequency of pets being involved in so many unusual late excuses, that last one somehow doesn’t surprise me.)

In how many households is that snooze button being abused?.

More than a quarter (27 percent) of workers arrive late to work at least once a month, up from 26 percent last year. Hey, we all have rough mornings, and winter fully upon us, it’s sometimes hard to scrape down the car or trudge through the snow to make it to an 8:00 meeting.

While many employers are more flexible about work schedules and start times today than in the past, understanding that life sometimes gets in the way of work, 34 percent of employers surveyed said they have terminated an employee for being late (up 2 percent from last year’s findings). Are you one of those bosses?

As Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, points out, punctuality – or lack thereof – can impact how an employee’s commitment, reliability and performance are perceived by an employer.

Communication is essential

While punctuality can impact how an employee’s commitment, reliability and performance are perceived, it’s also important to remember that perceptions don’t always equal reality. I would stress that as a boss, it’s your responsibility to be open and communicative about policies and preferences for work tardiness–let employees know what you expect while breeding an environment of honesty and understanding.

  • Let your employees know what your expectations are in the case that they are running late to work. Open lines of communication will mean more respect from your employees — and fewer headaches for you. And chances are, if you trust and respect your employees, they will return the favor.
  • Make sure employee handbooks and guidelines are readily available to employees — and offer to answer any uncertainties or get employees in touch with the person who is able to answer their questions if you can’t.
  • Give your employees the benefit of the doubt – they may be stuck wrangling keys from a sly fox, exhausted from being up all night with a screaming child, or going through a rough personal time. While these reasons don’t mean you need to give them free reign to do whatever they want, listening to your employees and trying to compromise a plan that will better fit their lifestyle while still satisfying your business requirements is a win-win in the long run: As I’ve said before, improved balance between life and work = happier employees = better business.