My Boss Won’t Use My Name

Question:  I work for family owned business. The owner and his two sons are white. One employee is White, one is Hispanic and I am Black. My boss addresses me as “ helper”, never by my name. I’ve been there a year. I’m feeling discriminated against. What should I do?

Response: I’m not clear on how someone could avoid calling someone by their first or last name for a full year! Does he say, “Hi, Helper, how was your weekend?” Or, “Bill, why don’t you and Helper work on this?” That would seem very odd. Or, does he just introduce you as a helper in the company? Or, put you on the organizational chart as “Helper” instead of putting your name? I would like to know more about that!

Have you talked to him about it? Perhaps it would be enough to say, “Mr. Wilson (or Jim, or whatever you call him), you know my name is Patricia. Could you call me by that, instead of always saying, Helper?”  Or, you might say, “Mr. Wilson, everyone else calls me Patricia. I wish you would.” At least you might get a reason for his actions.

If you know the sons well enough, perhaps you could mention it to them, especially if they call you by your name.

A business as small as the one you describe does not usually come under EEOC regulations. Even if it did, you would have to show that his use of the title, Helper, is demeaning or derogatory. I think it is rude and insensitive, but it is not offensive, on its own. Another aspect would be your role in relation to the boss. Are you a helper in some way or would another title be more correct?

If you want to keep working there, you may find it helpful to talk to him about it, with the hope that he has never considered how odd it sounds, when he knows your name. If you find that he is doing it purposely to make you feel bad, you probably should not be working there anyway.

I will be interested in knowing how this works out, and would like to hear back from you about how he uses the title “Helper”.

Best wishes! 
Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.