The American Association of Notaries November 2021 Issue 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 his or her commission, the commission belongs to the notary, as well as the seal, journal, and any other 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 seal or journal at work even if the employer paid for these items. An employer may not keep your journal or seal and has no say over how you use your commission after hours. When leaving an employer, the notary must keep his or her commission, seal, journal and other 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.
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