London: Women employed in care work are more often exposed to sexual harassment by clients or customers than those in other occupational groups such as education, service or industrial work, new research has found.
While some workplaces, for example in person-related work like care work or social work, may have an attitude that dealing with sexual harassment by clients or customers is “part of the job”, the study published in the journal BMC Public Health showed that such harassment may put employees at increased risk of depression.
“Our findings suggest that sexual harassment from clients or customers has adverse consequences and should not be normalised or ignored,” said Ida Elisabeth Huitfeldt Madsen of the National Research Centre for the Working Environment, Denmark.
The researchers found that compared to employees not exposed to sexual harassment, employees harassed by clients or customers scored 2.05 points higher on the Major Depression Inventory (MDI) — a self-report mood questionnaire that generates a diagnosis of depression together with an estimate of symptom severity.
“In this study we found that sexual harassment from clients or customers, which is more prevalent than harassment from other employees, is associated with an increased level of depressive symptoms,” Madsen said.
The study involved 7,603 employees from across 1,041 organisations in Denmark.
Out of the total employees, 2.4 per cent were exposed to sexual harassment by clients or customers, while around one per cent were exposed to harassment by colleagues.
Women were more likely to be exposed than men, with 169 out of 4,116 women reporting sexual harassment by clients or customers compared to 11 out of 3,487 men, and 48 women reporting sexual harassment by colleagues compared to 31 men.
Participants employed in care work were found to be more vulnerable to sexual harassment by clients or customers.
“This is not something that has been shown before. Previous research showed an increased risk of long term sickness absence for employees exposed to sexual harassment by a colleague, supervisor or subordinate but an increased risk was not always found in association with sexual harassment by clients or customers,” Madsen added.