I hate being late and usually am early, though on occasion I still arrive late. This is embarrassing but today I had a large coffee before leaving for work, and I had to get off the bus to use the bathroom. As a result I was 10 minutes late but had no other choice. I was fortunate enough to be able to walk the rest of the distance to work, but normally buses come every 15/20 minutes in my area. Note, I normally don't have a drink, but that day I needed extra caffeine. Right now we are being trained and are in a computer lab with an instructor. The instructor didn't say anything to me but another student told me he was mad. I made a point to apologize and he asked what happened and I told him.

He had also asked to send him a text message if you are going to be even 1 minute late.


  1. What do you say to your manager/instructor when you're late? Do you just say "sorry I was late" or do you give a reason too even if not asked? Also do you wait for a minute to be alone with them? I don't want to interrupt the whole class with my story.

  2. If the manager/instructors wants to know even if you're going to be 1 minute late, sometimes it's hard to know with that much detail in advanced. Is it better to message that you will be late, or is it better not to as not to leave a paper trail as you may be on time?

  3. How often and by how much can one be reasonably late? Obviously the goal is to always be on time though this isn't always possible.

    I've only been late once before because a traffic accident. It may also be worth noting that since the computer lab is used before our group, we aren't allowed to arrive early.

This is different than my last job where the boss was ok with plus or minus 10 minutes from official start time and I'm having trouble adjusting. For example the instructor gets mad if someone goes to refill their water bottle shortly after the lunch break and says they are late.


The next day the instructor pulled people out of the room one by one to talk to them. I was one of them. It was about being late. He informed me I had been late 2 times and if it happened again during training (which is 7 weeks long) I would get written up and talked to. I confirmed that 1 minute after the start is considered late and he said yes. He counts every time, for example when I was late because their was a traffic accident I couldn't get around and preemptive sent him a message.

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    "Dear boss, I'm going to be 2 minutes late today. 1 minute because I had to park at the far end of the lot this morning, and the other minute because I had to stop walking while I typed this SMS."
    – Steve-O
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 15:23
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    "Dear employee, If you routinely arrive at the company at the exact moment you are expected to be at your desk and working then your services will no longer be required."
    – David
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 16:13
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    How long are you going to be in this class? Who is paying for it? What are the consequences of the instructor getting mad at you? What do you think the consequences would be messaging that you will be late, but then showing up on time; will that still get the instructor mad at you?
    – stannius
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 17:55
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    Also to be honest being late three times in just seven weeks is pretty poor show, especially during a probationary/training period in which you should be doing everything you can to present a good self-image. Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 0:22
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    @thisisaname: Unless transit to work is difficult (e.g. very few buses) I can't agree with that. It seems you're cutting it too close and suffering the consequences. 1 minute late is late, no matter how seriously the lateness is taken. If the working day starts at 9am, why are you not habitually there at 8.45am or 8.50am? To get a coffee, set up, allow for delays.... but again I'm more concerned with the medical implications of your question. Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 9:29

8 Answers 8


I am from a German background in which I was brought up to believe the following:

  • Being early is being on time
  • Being on time is being late
  • Being late is unforgivable


1) What do you say to your manager/instructor when you're late? Do you just say "sorry I was late" or do you give a reason too even if not asked?

You say "I'm sorry I was late, it won't happen again". Then make sure it doesn't.

2) If the manager/instructors wants to know even if you're going to be 1 minute late, sometimes it's hard to know with that much detail in advanced. Is it better to message that you will be late, or is it better not to as not to leave a paper trail as you may be on time?

If you even think you may be late, send a message beforehand to tell him that you are running late. If you make up the time and find that you will not be late, send a follow-up message to disregard the previous message and state that you will be on time.

3) How often and by how much can one be reasonably late? Obviously the goal is to always be on time though this isn't always possible.

If it isn't an extraordinary circumstance, such as a medical emergency, accident on your commute, or a weather event that affects everybody, it is never acceptable.

I have a morning ritual that I use to maintain my punctuality. On my commute, I make several stops. I will pick up coffee, supplies, and sometimes a sandwich for lunch. If I am running late, I eliminate one or more of my stops to make up for time.

Another strategy is to simply plan to be early. That way, you can get to work and relax a few minutes before diving in.

The simple fact is that you have more control over your timeliness than you think.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Further discussion in comments is subject to deletion; use the chat room to talk about the feasibility of being early, and use comments to request clarification from the author. Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 22:13

1) What do you say to your manager/instructor when you're late? Do you just say "sorry I was late" or do you give a reason too even if not asked?

Depends on the occasion and the impact of your lateness. If you are holding up a roomful of other people waiting, you should apologize profusely. If it's a 1:1 starting a few minutes late where the other party can use the time productively a simple "sorry, I'm late" is fine. The key is to communicate up front when you are going to be late with an estimated ETA. Then the affected people can make an informed decision how to proceed and minimize the impact on their time.

2) If the manager/instructors wants to know even if you're going to be 1 minute late, sometimes it's hard to know with that much detail in advanced. Is it better to message that you will be late, or is it better not to as not to leave a paper trail as you may be on time?

It's always better to communicate up front that you will be late. The main impact of your lateness is that you potentially waste other people's time. If they know that you are late and by how much they can decide to wait, postpone, start without you, etc.

3) How often and by how much can one be reasonably late? Obviously the goal is to always be on time though this isn't always possible.

That really depends on the impact of your lateness. As long as no one is impacted by your lateness, no one will care much. However, if you have a roomful of people waiting for you, who could be doing something productive otherwise, that's very rude and annoying.

  • Giving an ETA can be hard when such a high level of precision is expected. If the elevators are heavily in use, it is possible I could be 1 minute late though I don't know until its too late. Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 11:34

All of the answers so far say essentially the same thing: Don't be late. Let me offer a more general rule that will better serve you in most cases: Ask your boss, and ask your coworkers. They are the only ones who can accurately answer your questions. All three of your questions are appropriate ones to ask.

If your company places high value on being on time, arrange your mornings so you won't ever be late.

If your company has more flexibility for working hours, try to show up the same time every day, and don't get too hung up on a few minutes of variance. But make sure your supervisor is okay with the time you are coming in.

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    While this is true generally, the OP already has gotten a clear message that lateness is unacceptable.
    – user45590
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 12:35

When someone tells you they want a text if you are going to be even one minute late, they are saying DO NOT BE LATE. Take an earlier bus, so that even if it gets stuck in traffic or you have to get off and do something then get on the next bus, you'll still be on time. Most days, you'll be ten or fifteen minutes early. The person who has given you these instructions is saying "do not time your arrival so you get here right on time; time it so you're normally early and will not be late." They are saying that your time is not as important as the group's time, and that you can do something useful when you arrive early, but the group can't do anything while waiting for an unknown amount of time.

You seem to worry that if you text "the traffic is really heavy today and my bus seems to be running 15 minutes late; I hope we make up the time later on the route but if we don't I only allowed 10 minutes delay in my plans so might be 5 minutes late" that this somehow leaves a "paper trail" that will be held against you. It will not. If you text, 1 minute before you should be arriving "looks like I'm 20 minutes behind schedule" that might be held against you, because it shows a lack of foresight or planning. But "I might be late" and then you weren't? Not a problem. (If you're worried the instructor is a nasty person who would use your 'might be late" texts against you even if you were not late in the end, simply send a "phew! made it with a minute to spare!" text when you arrive on time or early after sending a "might be late" text. But I doubt that is a serious worry.)

You may find this employer is not such a stickler once the training is complete. Or there may be an all-hands meeting every morning you can't be late for. Get used to planning for an early arrival (and having something to do for 10 or 15 minutes most days) and you will almost never be late.

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    « But "I might be late" and then you weren't? Not a problem. » — Truth be told, I wouldn’t put it past the kind of boss who requires a text if you’re going to be one minute late to also get mad at you for texting you might be late and then showing up on time. Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 18:48
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    Saying "take an earlier bus (...) Most days, you'll be ten or fifteen minutes early" is not realistic, most buses from most cities do not run every 10 minutes. I live in Portugal's second largest city; the bus to my work goes every half hour; I'd be 40-60 minutes early. That's not quite the same as 10-15'...
    – ANeves
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 18:57
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    But the story in the question involves having to get off the bus and find a bathroom, then presumably get back on the next bus, and yet being only 10 minutes late. In Toronto, buses run every few minutes during morning rush hour. Yes, in smaller Ontario cities the buses run once an hour or there are no buses. But they don't have heavy traffic or some of these other disruptions. So you can take a bus that arrives 10 minutes before work starts, and if it runs late you'll arrive 5 minutes before work time. Just don't miss it, or get off it once you're on. Plan ahead to ensure that. Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 22:08
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    @ANeves Trains in my area only go every 30 minutes or so. Service has been so bad lately that I've ended up taking the train an HOUR [two services] before the one I should theoretically manage with. Often, that has been justified; not quite so often, I've had an hour to kill. Unfortunately when you are at the mercy of public transport operators, you are at their mercy. Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 9:44
  • Thanks for the answer. I updated the question with a bit of detail regarding the buses. Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 19:07

I have been late quite often, until I started to manage other people. Nowadays I consider it being rude, and in general am on time nearly always.

In my experience, when you know you are going to be late, it is best to:

  • inform about it as soon as you realize it.

This shows consideration for others' time and allows the chair /instructor to make changes in the meeting agenda, if needed.

  • include your estimate about how much later you will arrive. Same reasons.

This involves awareness of and making realistic estimates about your travel time both before and during v the commute. Planning your travel should include also awareness of possible everyday obstacles: rush hour traffic jams, bus/train leaving a couple minutes early, etc.

In general, if you planned to arrive on dot, and you're 1 minute late for meeting, it means you should have planned to arrive 5min early and you would be on time.

A general exception would be if you only could arrive by bus that goes like 1-2 times a day and the closest to your meeting time will ALWAYS make you late. It is then worth asking instructor if he would be ok with that.

The rest of your questions seem to be culture dependant and therefore maybe more info is needed.

  • "In my experience, when you know you are going to be late," - I tend to take it one step further and when I think I might be late for a meeting I let the organizer know. Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 16:45
  • Well yes. I used "know" in the sense of "reasonably expect"
    – Gnudiff
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 16:47
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    Wasn't that long ago that I saw someone on this SE make a comment about having left with a half-hour buffer on a half-hour commute only to arrive three hours late. I've been there too. In fact, the irregular commute time for a temp-to-hire position I had was one (if minor) factor that contributed to declining renewal. It was my homeward commute, but it was still not fun to have a 45m journey one day and a two hour slog the next. Oh, and leaving early/late wasn't an option: evening rush-hour started at 3pm and ended at 7pm. Some days you just can't predict what it's going to be like. Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 19:55

I am confused by your use of manager/instructor. Is the person who is instructing you also your manager? If not, is your company paying for you to be trained by a third party? If the latter, I would complain to your actual manager that your instructor is behaving in an unreasonable and unprofessional manner.


Firstly, you apologize to your direct boss and explain the circumstances, even if they are slightly embarrassing (I once had to apologize for being late due to setting my alarm clock for 18:00 rather than 06:00 - it was a 12-hour display); then you work late or through lunch to make up for your tardiness. Your employer is paying you for your time; if you are supposed to start at 09:00 but arrive at 09:30, work half an hour of your lunch or stay half an hour late. Obviously if you've missed a meeting (or most of one) that's not going to fix the immediate problem but if that's the case then you should 'phone ahead when you realize you won't make it.

If you work 09:00 - 17:00 with an hour for lunch your employer has the right to expect 7 hours of your time every working day - it's what they're paying you for so make sure they get it.

This does not mean you can implement some kind of unilateral flex-time; it really is for genuine lateness only so do your very best to be on time every day.

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    wrote "Your employer is paying you for your time" That might be true at many places, but not all. At a good company, your employer is likely paying you for your work and more importantly the results of your work, and that is a very different thing than your time. Not all hours are created equal.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 14:50
  • @Aaron - I agree that not all employers are equal, but in an office situation you are not very likely to be paid piecework; you are paid to work for a certain number of hours per day. Maybe I'm just old and cynical (almost certainly the case) but while I've often heard employers ask me to give up my free time to ease the workload when they got their plans wrong I've never heard one say "you finished the project a week early? Great! Have a free week off!". It's all about the hours you put in.
    – Spratty
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 7:54
  • I agree with your comment. I think that truth is a bad thing, not good, but agree that it's the general company reaction. Some places are like that, but I think it is rare. I'm still hoping to work into that situation some day. I do, however, see more of "You finished a week early? Great! You still need to come to work, but you can slack off on-site for a week." I have worked with people who work better, get done sooner, and then watch youtube, read comics, play games, etc. with boss' blessing. It's not really costing company anything; these people tend to still get more (1/2)
    – Aaron
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 17:50
  • (2/2) done than their peers even despite slacking off. If they got less done per day (or week/month) than their peers, that's a problem. But I have known very talented people who come in late, do an amazing job several times faster than peers, slack off awhile, leave early, and still have twice the output at same or higher quality as others with the same work. One person I have in mind now sells his own software product to companies, software he made and works on from home, because employers disagreed about work habits/environment; employer's loss not his. (Note: it is not me, unfortunately)
    – Aaron
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 18:00

If the instructor is mad but doesn't tell you, that's the instructor's problem. In a course being late is usually only your problem, unless you have to take your course because of some legal requirements, and therefore MUST pass, and therefore the instructor must wait until everybody is there. (I had to go to a course recently where being late meant you didn't pass; the instructor wouldn't have been the slightest bit annoyed if you were late, but you wouldn't have passed).

In normal work life, it depends on three things: How important is it that you are on time, that is how much objective damage if you are late? How important is it to your boss? How difficult is it to be on time? It's impossible to be always on time. Take the quoted Germans, find them a nice job in London and a home in the area covered by South Eastern railway, and they will be late at least twice a week.

If the actual problem turns out to be your manager's attitude, then convince the company that your manager's attitude is wrong (which is quite possible if he has a problem with punctuality and other managers don't), or look for a new position.

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