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Q&A - Volunteer Personal File
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"If a volunteer asks to see the information that is contained in their personal file, is our organization obligated to allow them access to those records?"


The answer is yes – privacy legislation requires that an organization allow an individual to see the personal information their records hold about that person.

This will include interview notes, results of personal reference checks and performance reviews. All such information should be recorded using objective terms related to the skills required to meet the needs of the position. The skills and competencies that relate to the volunteer role should be determined when the position is designed. The abilities that are actually needed to support a suitable match should be included in the position description.

Requirements of the position will include ‘soft skills’, such as the ability to relate well to others, to demonstrate good judgement, to behave appropriately in group situations, to manage anger or conflict, etc. It is important to present conclusions about personal characteristics and behaviour in non-judgmental language. Notes related to suitability for a position, or observations that form part of a performance review, should be phrased in ways that describe relevant skills or behaviour without statements that reflect a personal opinion or a 'gut' feeling.

Information Access and Protection of Privacy (IAPP) legislation is a responsibility shared by federal, provincial/territorial and municipal governments. There are specific exemptions in IAPP legislation about individual’s having access to their personal information, but these do not directly pertain to personal files on volunteers.

Information Access and Protection of Privacy (IAPP) legislation does vary somewhat from one jurisdiction to another across cities and towns, provinces and territories in Canada, but not in a sufficiently substantial way that would change the answer to this question.

It is safest to assume that, when you record information in a person’s individual volunteer file, IAPP law gives the individual the right to look at that file and to request that any inaccuracies or misinformation in the file be corrected by the organization. 

Related web sites: Information Access and Protection of Privacy (IAPP) legislation - see Privacy Legislation;  - Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada; The Screening Handbook, relevance of Information and Privacy legislation to the volunteer screening process.

  * All answers are for information purposes only. 

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