Dealing with sexual harassment from clients is a complex issue that requires support from colleagues and employers, spokespersons from the sector said.
In the survey, which was carried out by union FOA, one in four members employed in the social and healthcare sectors said they had experienced harassment within the last year.
Home carers, social workers and health assistants were among those responding to the survey.
As many as 32 percent of respondents said that they had experienced either unwanted touching, embraces, kissing, inappropriate looks or other sexually inappropriate behaviour in the course of their work.
A patient or client was responsible for the infringing behaviour in nine out of ten cases, according to the study.
That creates a dilemma for healthcare and social workers, FOA's union secretary for equality Joan Prahl wrote in a statement posted on the union's website.
“There can be serious consequences for individual employees. Some blame themselves and feel ashamed. Or they feel that they have not adequately dealt with the task at hand. That can lead to stress and sick leave. That is a burden we must take very seriously,” Prahl wrote.
While some patients are aware they are making unwanted sexual advances, others, including people suffering from dementia or those with psychiatric conditions or reduced cognitive abilities, are not, meaning workers cannot respond in a uniform way to every instance.
“But it is part of the profession to be able to manage citizens' sexuality as a natural part of their lives. When that happens, it must be in a dignified way, both for the citizen and the employee. So we hope that workplace leaders will make use of our guide,” FOA's deputy chair for social and health care Torben Klitmøller Hollmann said in the union's press release, making reference to a new guide for sector employees on how to deal with sexual harassment at work.
Prahl also wrote that workplaces have an important role to play in supporting social and healthcare workers.
“It is crucial that there is a dialogue at individual workplaces so that nobody feels left alone with this challenge and so everyone knows how to react if they or a colleague finds themselves in a difficult situation of this kind,” she wrote.