Career Advice

How To Politely Say “No” When Your Boss Asks You To Stay Late  

You sign up for a job and expect to work a certain shift and days. However, you understand that your employer might ask you to stay because of emergent business needs one day. You might even know how versatile working hours can be in a retail setting.

But what do you do when your boss asks you to stay late on a day when you can’t do it? What if you don’t want to do it? Is there a polite way to decline, or should you feel obligated to stay? Here’s some clarification about that.

Why Your Boss Might Ask You To Stay Late

Your boss might ask you to stay at work for a while for many reasons. One of the most common reasons for asking a worker to stay is a last-minute callout. One of your coworkers might be sick and need to leave early, too.

Your boss may ask you to stay late so that person can go to the doctor and get the right medication to feel better. You’ll be a hero if you extend your shift in a situation like that.

Another reason your bosses might ask you to stay is if the business has more customers than usual. Maybe it’s a holiday, or there’s a special convention where the company has to take care of more people than usual. Your employer might need your help taking care of those customers.

Your workplace may have changed its operational hours. That’s very common with retail locations during certain times of the year. Maybe your boss needs you to work for an extra hour because of it.

Usually, your manager won’t ask you to stay unless he needs you to stay. It’s wise to do it if you need the extra cash and want to give the employer the impression that you’re a reliable person. They will appreciate your efforts and probably think highly of you.

Read More: “I Hate My Job But Can’t Afford To Quit”: 16 Tips To Survive And Thrive

Can My Boss Make Me Stay Late?

Do you have to stay when your boss asks you to stay late? No, you don’t necessarily have to stay if you can’t. You don’t have to stay if you don’t want to either. The only time you may have to worry about it is if your new employer has a mandatory overtime thing in place.

Most employers forewarn their workers when they have mandatory overtime policies in place. They have an easier time enforcing it when the time comes that way. Yours will expect you to stay late if you take the job knowing they might ask you to do mandatory overtime.

In other situations, you don’t have to stay, though your bosses and coworkers might put a guilt trip on you for saying no. That will depend on the environment you work in and the level of pettiness they engage in.

A Good Excuse Not To Stay Late at Work

You probably don’t know what to say when your boss asks you to stay, but don’t worry. It’s not that difficult. It’s best to be polite and give a good reason to decline when your boss asks you to stay.

You don’t have to get into great detail and tell them why unless you want to. Offering a reason or excuse will put your boss at ease, and it’s a great way to let them know that you would have stayed if you didn’t have the obligation you mentioned.

You should be honest with your boss, but not too honest. In other words, don’t ever tell your boss you don’t feel like doing it, or you’re refusing to do it because you don’t like the position or status the company gave you (part-time, temporary, etc.).

Don’t complain about the scumbag who didn’t show up for work or the liar who went to a concert after he said he was sick. Present your excuse calmly and show compassion for your managers, who will probably have to do the work themselves if they can’t get anyone to stay. These are some good excuses you can use if they’re true:

“I don’y have a babysitter.”

Childcare issues are an excellent excuse not to stay late at work. Your employer will likely sympathize with you if you tell them you don’t have childcare covered, and they most likely won’t expect you to leave your child home unattended.

“I have a rescheduled appointment.”

You can tell your bosses you have a prescheduled appointment if you don’t have any children to use as an excuse. A doctor’s appointment is the best to use because it’s urgent.

You could also use something like a house showing or a facial or massage appointment, but they won’t carry as much weight as a medical appointment. Your employer will leave you alone and accept that you can’t stay if you tell them you have to see a doctor, but they might try to guilt you out of a massage or beauty appointment.

“I’m feeling under the weather.”

The “feeling under the weather” excuse is one of the ways to get out of working late. You can be vague about your “ailment.” The employer will probably back off and let you go home ASAP, and he might tell you to take off tomorrow, too.

“My ride can only pick me up now.”

You can tell your boss you have scheduled a rideshare, or the person picking you up only has time to do it right now. As a matter of fact, you can tell your boss the ride is waiting outside for you. If you’re lucky, he won’t follow you outside to investigate.

“I have to pick up my kids/spouse/family member.”

You can also tell your boss you have to leave to pick up someone. Maybe you can say you need to leave immediately to pick up your kids. Alternatively, you can say a friend or family member’s flight has just landed, and you have to pick them up at the airport right now.

Pretend you’re very disappointed you’re unable to can’t stay late, but tell them you can’t leave your family member stranded. That would be rude.

“My plane/train leaves in an hour.”

Tell your boss you have a flight or plane leaving in the next hour. Tell him you would love to do that favor for him, but you’ll lose $300 if you miss your flight. He’ll either accept the decline gracefully or offer to cover your plane ticket expenses if you stay.

“My dog is home alone.”

Using your furbaby is a good way to get out of staying late at work too. You can tell your boss that your dog is in the house alone, and you need to get back to him so he won’t be scared. Alternatively, you can tell him it’s almost your dog’s dinner time, and you have to feed to him before he gets rabies from starvation.

“I have karate practice.”

Karate practice is essential to keeping you safe and secure in the presence of thieves and vandals. Thus, you won’t be able to miss your next appointment, which is, unfortunately, when your boss wants you to work. Tell him your Sensei is teaching the crane move tonight, and Ralph Macchio’s likeness will be there. He’ll understand if he’s old enough, and he’ll laugh if he’s not.

Saying no to staying late at work doesn’t have to be awkward or nerve-racking. You can add some humor to it to make your boss laugh at the very least. He might ignore that you just told him no about his request if you give him a chuckle or two.

Can an Employer Fire You for Not Staying Late?

Whether an employer can fire you for not staying late depends on the employment agreement and the jargon stated in the document. Your employer can fire you with or without cause if the employment agreement says you have an at-will employment arrangement.

Federal laws prohibit your employer from terminating you for reasons concerning a protected status only. That means they can’t get rid of you because of your religion, gender, race, sexual preferences, etc. However, they can fire you for not working late or terminate you for any other allowable reason under the sun.

It’s not likely your employer will terminate you just because you can’t stay late one night. But you should be aware of the amount of legal leeway they have regardless. Consider those factors when you decide whether to stay late or do some other favor for your boss. That doesn’t mean you should feel pressured into staying. The information is there so that you’ll know where you stand.

Now you know what to do when your boss asks you to stay late. Take the information presented to you and make the best decision for your bosses and yourself.

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About Author

Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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