Most small-business owners have heard myriad excuses for workers being late or not coming in at all. Michael Palmer, owner of K Hotels Sales & Marketing in Los Angeles, writes the best (or worst) excuses on a white board to help deter repeat offenders. His greatest hits include "I dyed my hair blonde and it looks terrible" and "I thought Columbus Day was a holiday." But experts warn that small excuses now can lead to bigger trouble down the road. "If it becomes OK to skirt the rules in little ways, it eventually becomes acceptable to skirt the rules in big ways, too," said Patricia Harned, president of the Ethics Resource Center.

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