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How to Tell Your Boss You Can’t Work a Shift Today?

Not every job has a 9 to 5 system. Sometimes, there are shifts that one has to adhere to, and the shifts are also often rotated. Some companies also hire employees for specific shifts, depending on what kind of business they have or the time zone of the clients they serve.

Hence, if you work in a job that has a system based on shifts, there is a chance that you will not be able to work a shift on particular days. Personal problems are the most significant reason you may have to cancel a shift last minute.

In such cases, you must be polite and tactful while telling your boss that you will not be able to work a shift on that day. Of course, you should inform your boss as soon as possible, but things will be more difficult if you tell them on that very day.

For obvious reasons, you should inform your boss that you will not be able to work a shift as soon as possible so that there is enough time to arrange for someone else to cover your shift. You could also ask a colleague to do it for you if they are available.

Why is Communicating Properly With Your Manager Important if You Can’t Work a Shift?

Why is Communicating Properly With Your Manager Important if You Can’t Work a Shift

Speaking to your manager or supervisor openly about not working a shift can prevent many complications later, rather than simply not turning up. This is a common mistake that many employees make. They think they will simply not turn up for the shift and deal with the repercussions later.

However, that is inappropriate and will only jeopardize your relationship with your boss. Even if your reasons for not working a shift are last-minute, you should still reach out to your manager and tell them you cannot make it. That will also give you more peace of mind.

Or else, you will not be able to take care of the issue because you missed the shift in the first place, as you constantly worry about what your manager will say when you return to work.

Informing your manager will allow you to plan your schedule better. More importantly, once your manager sees how transparent you are with your communication, they will be far more lenient the next time such a situation arises. You can also agree that you will compensate for your missed shift by working an additional shift later.

Moreover, if your boss tells you to cover for your colleagues every time they are absent, this may give rise to an expectation that you will always be available, no matter what. Hence, whether you cannot work your shift or whether it means covering for someone else, it is essential to tell your manager why you may not be able to do so.

How to Tell Your Employer You Cannot Work a Shift?

You should plan if you cannot work a shift on a particular day. Try to inform them with at least three days’ notice. However, sometimes you may only come to know in the morning that you won’t be able to work that day. Here is how you should go about informing your boss about it.

1. Ensure a Schedule

Ensure a Schedule

When you speak to your boss about not being able to work a shift, you should approach him with a final schedule.

Do not keep changing the schedule at the last moment. If you plan on working another shift in place of your current one, inform your boss when you intend to do so, and let him organize the work accordingly.

Make sure that the rest of the schedule remains as unchanged as possible so that there is the least trouble when you cannot work a schedule.

2. Have a Direct Conversation

Instead of simply sending an email or text message, ask to meet your supervisor and have a direct conversation, explaining why you will not be able to work your shift that day.

If you are going to miss the shift and won’t be able to come to work at all, then you should call your manager, explain the situation, and tell them you will meet them as soon as you are back.

Your manager will at least know that you were trying to communicate and appreciate it.

3. Rearrange the Work Efficiently

Rearrange the Work Efficiently

If you cannot work your shift on a particular day, try to rearrange the work efficiently without causing any inconvenience as much as possible. You may ask a coworker to fill in a shift for you so that the rest of the work can go undisturbed.

On the other hand, if you cannot cover someone else’s shift, you must inform them at the earliest so that they can make other arrangements without causing the least amount of trouble.

4. Make Yourself Accountable

Although not being able to work a shift may not seem like a big issue, it could disturb the workflow in the organization, especially if you tell your boss you cannot work that day.

Holding yourself accountable will show that you understand your obligations. You can tell your boss that you will try to compensate for the shift as soon as possible.

5. Give Your Reasons

Give Your Reasons

Unless and until it is too personal, you must try to explain why you will not be able to work your shift. You do not have to go into too many details, but giving your boss a general idea as to why you will not be able to work the shift would be appropriate.

It would make you more professional and allow you to state that you have genuine reasons for not turning up at your shift.

6. Plan Your Workload

Planning your workload is essential when it comes to not working a shift. Missing a shift would mean you would accumulate the work for that shift, and it would pile up, adding to your list of pending tasks. Even if you plan to make up for your shift the next day, the next day, work would pile up again.

Hence, you can speak to your manager in advance and talk to them about work allocation if you miss a shift. That will help better management, and your supervisor will appreciate that you informed them.

Also Read:- How To Handle Difficult Situations At Work Place?

7. Offer to Compensate

Offer to Compensate

It would be best if you offered to compensate for the shift you didn’t work without the manager asking you to do so. When the time is slack, your manager might just pardon you and tell you not to worry about it.

Nevertheless, offering to help shows integrity on your part. Even if you have to work an extra shift later, your boss will be more considerate while allocating the extra shift.

8. Be Aware of the Consequences

Being aware of the consequences when you miss a shift is essential. Does your office have special rules when you don’t come in for a shift? Is it going to affect your payout? What kind of deductions are you looking at?

It is crucial to know whether you are going to get into any trouble for missing a shift. If you are unsure, you can speak to the HR department, who will tell you about it.

9. Choosing Your Additional Shifts

Choosing Your Additional Shifts

While you may offer to compensate for the shift you missed, you may choose the alternative shifts with discretion. Any additional shifts you are offered later should ideally match the shift timings you usually work in.

For example, if you miss an afternoon shift, you should be given an afternoon shift later or, most importantly, an evening one. That can be managed for a day. However, if you are told to work a night shift instead, you should agree at your discretion.

Taking up that shift would imply you are free to take up those shifts, and you may be offered such shifts later as well, with your boss expecting you to take it up whenever needed.

Hence, it would be best if you were careful while choosing the additional shifts. After all, you are not obliged to work outside your schedule.

Also Read: 9 Best Last-Minute Excuses for Being Late to Work

Telling a Colleague You Can’t Cover Their Shift

Telling a Colleague You Can't Cover Their Shift

Just like you can’t work your shift on a particular day, some colleagues may have the same problem and ask you to cover for them at some point.

While it is perfectly alright to agree to the offer because someday you might also need them to cover for you, some colleagues make this a regular habit. They might request you time and again to cover for them while they leave the office to take care of their tasks.

If you see this happening too often, you should turn them down occasionally and say you are unavailable. This could become a regular pattern, and you must avoid that. If they persist, talk with them about why you cannot keep covering for them all the time, and they will probably understand.

Can You be Punished if You Miss a Shift?

Yes, whether you can be punished for missing a shift depends entirely on your office rules. However, if you are clear about them and you had spoken to your HR before and informed your boss, then there is no reason why you would be punished.

You are liable to be punished if you decide not to turn up suddenly without informing anyone.

On the other hand, if your boss denied you permission to miss your shift and you decided not to come anyway, you could be subjected to disciplinary action. Hence, it is up to you to determine how important your errands are compared to any repercussions you may face while missing the shift.

Also Read:- 9 Signs Your Boss is Threatened By You And Wants You Gone

Examples to Tell Your Boss You Can’t Take a Shift

If you cannot work on that day or any day soon enough, here is how you may write a note to them after speaking to them.

Example 1


I will be unavailable for my regular shift today at (time and date of shift) as I have to meet my doctor. I will see you the next day at my usual shift time. However, I will be available on call. I have also completed all my work for that shift, so you will not have any issues.

Example 2


I wanted to inform you that I will not be present today for my shift at (time and date of shift). I will have to leave early to take my pet to the vet. However, I will come in early tomorrow and take care of my pending tasks, so you will not have any issues.

Example 3


I wanted to inform you that I cannot work my regular shift today at (time and date of shift) because I have to take care of some personal issues at home. However, I have already asked Carla to fill it in for me, so you will not have any issues.

Example 4


I will not be able to come in for my shift today at (time and date of shift) as I will have to attend my son’s PTM this afternoon. However, I will compensate for it later and speak to you about my schedule for the next week so that I can take care of any pending tasks.


Missing a shift may not seem like a big issue at first, but if you are doing so at a busy time of the month, then it could give rise to some problems. This is especially true if your part of the work is tied to your team members. In that case, the workflow might be disrupted if you decide to miss a shift.

You should plan out your schedule and speak to your manager to avoid any miscommunication later. Additionally, if you can take care of your work before or after your shift, everything will be fine, and there shouldn’t be any problems.