Who Dictates My Notary Duties - The State or My Employer?

If you hold a notary commission as part of your employment, you might be familiar with the awkward situation that arises when an employer, sometimes innocently, asks you to do something that would violate state law. You might ask yourself, "Do I do what my boss wants me to do, or do I follow the law?" Notaries can feel conflicted between their duty to their employers and their duty to uphold their oaths of office.

The answer is clear. Notaries always answer first and foremost to the State, which granted their commissions. When an individual is granted the privilege of serving in public office as a notary, that commission is granted to the individual in his or her name only. The individual must typically take an oath of office and serve a four-year term, just like other public officers. Even if the notary's employer paid for the notary's  commission, the notary commission belongs to the notary, as well as the notary seal, notary journal, and any other notary supplies.

That being said, it is important to note that your employer can place reasonable restrictions on your use of your notary commission during work hours. In general, a notary's employer may restrict the employee-notary from providing notarial services during working hours—especially when it comes to non-customers. Some employers allow their notaries to notarize only for work-related transactions. An employer may also insist that any notary fees collected during the business day belong to the employer. (These types of agreements are acceptable, but make sure that you and your employer come up with some plan that can be applied uniformly among all customers.) Employers cannot, however, restrict a notary's services outside working hours or require that a notary keep his or her notary seal or notary journal at work even if the employer paid for these items. An employer may not keep your notary journal or notary seal and has no say over how you use your commission after hours. When leaving an employer, the notary must keep his or her notary commission, notary seal, notary journal and other notary supplies.

Things can get tricky when an employer asks a notary to perform an act that doesn't quite follow the law. Employers and notaries should both be aware that many state’s laws do not provide any limit to the liability of a notary, and when a notary is acting in the course of his or her employment, that liability often extends to the notary’s employer.

For example, let’s say you are a notary who works in a title office. Your boss comes to you and wants you to notarize a deed. The signer appears before you, produces identification, and acknowledges the deed. However, you notice that the identification doesn’t look right, and the signatures don’t match. Still, your boss vouches for the signer, and you proceed with the notarization. Six months later, it turns out that the person who appeared before you was an impersonator, and the boss was in on it. Now, the real property owner wants to go after you for damages. Your boss may think he or she is off the hook, but the property owner can also sue your employer. Please note, however, that state laws may differ on liability, and you should always consult your own state’s laws.

In summary, a notary has a primary obligation to state law over the demands of his or her employer. It is even a crime in some states to solicit a notary to perform an improper act. If you have concerns, you should contact your state's commissioning authority. It is also a good idea to have a meeting with your employer to review state notary laws and discuss issues that arise.

Legal Disclaimer: The American Association of Notaries seeks to provide timely articles for notaries to assist them with information for managing their notary businesses, enhancing their notary education, and securing their notary stamp and notary supplies. Every effort is made to provide accurate and complete information in the American Association of Notaries newsletters. However, we make no warrant, expressed or implied, and we do not represent, undertake, or guarantee that the information in the newsletter is correct, accurate, complete, or non-misleading. Information in this article is not intended as legal advice. We are not attorneys. We do not pretend to be attorneys. Though we will sometimes provide information regarding notaries' best practices, federal laws and statutes, and the laws and statutes of each state, we have gathered this information from a variety of sources and do not warrant its accuracy. In no event shall the American Association of Notaries, its employees, or contractors be liable to you for any claims, penalties, loss, damage, or expenses, howsoever arising, including, and without limitation, direct or indirect loss or consequential loss out of or in connection with the use of the information contained in the American Association of Notaries newsletters. It is your responsibility to know the appropriate notary laws governing your state. Notaries are advised to seek the advice of their states' notary authorities or attorneys in their state if they have legal questions. If a section of this disclaimer is determined by any court or other competent authority to be unlawful and/or unenforceable, the other sections of this disclaimer continue in effect.

Notary bonds and errors and omissions insurance policies provided by this insurance agency, American Association of Notaries, Inc., are underwritten by Western Surety Company, Universal Surety of America, or Surety Bonding Company of America, which are subsidiaries of CNA Surety.

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