My boss has always been very friendly with me, but lately he has been complimenting me in ways that make me feel anxious. He comments on what I am wearing and told me the other day that I have a nice body. Now I don't want to be nice to him because I don't want to lead him on. But I also don't want to be cold because he could fire me, and I need my job and can't afford to lose it.
Compliments are OK, but if they're making you anxious, it's a problem. Sexual harassment is tough to define because it depends on context, patterns of behavior and how you feel. Any type of contact or compliment that makes you uneasy and creates a hostile work environment could be considered harassment.
This may be an isolated incident. But if he does it again, let him know that his comments are not welcome and are making you uncomfortable. Give him a chance to apologize and change his behavior. Use your best judgment — be as blunt or polite as you think necessary.
If he persists, take further action. Report his behavior to your human resources department or whomever your company's sexual harassment policy designates. (An employee handbook should provide this information.)
These steps are easier said than done — but know that you are not alone. Outrage over high-profile cases in Hollywood and the media have helped to create stronger laws and a more sympathetic climate for reporting harassment. In fact, the State of Vermont recently passed a new law, Act 183, to better protect workers from sexual harassment.
Remember, it is your legal right to work in a safe and nonthreatening environment. Taking action sooner rather than later could nip this in the bud and make your workplace safer for all.