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Clarifying Notary Commission Ownership


(UPDATED 11-18-14) Many companies pay for their employees to become Notaries, including the application and training fee, the cost of the surety bond, Notary stamp and other necessary supplies. However, this investment can create confusion for Notaries and employers alike over who owns or controls the commission and how it is to be used.

Regardless of who pays for a commission, it belongs to the individual Notary, not the employer. When performing notarizations, the Notary employee is acting as a public official. While state laws differ slightly, the following points clarify the general issues surrounding the employer/notary relationship.

Tools of the office: Many employers incorrectly believe they should be able to control, or at least have access to, their Notary employees’ stamps and journals. These are the tools of the Notary office, and the Notary must control and safeguard them at all times. If they are stored at the office, they must be kept in a place only the Notary can access. (However, please see the exceptions for Arizona and Oregon laws regarding journals when a Notary leaves employment below.)

Notary fees: Most states don’t have statutory rules about who keeps fees charged for Notary services. Typically, a written agreement between a Notary and the employer is the best way to clear up confusion. Under certain conditions an employer can collect the fees for notarizations performed by a Notary employee. For example, in California, a private employer who purchases the notarial supplies and bond of an employee can make a voluntary mutual agreement to receive fees for notarizations performed during business hours.

Following the law: Many employers who do not understand the purpose and protections of notarization push their Notary-employees to perform improper or illegal acts — an issue that dramatically increases legal risks to the public, the company and to the Notary. State law and ethical practices always take precedence over employer requests. For example, an employer cannot ask you to ignore personal appearance or state ID requirements for clients.

Notarizing outside of work: Notary commissions are granted to a person as an individual, even if their employer paid for the supplies and commission fees. A Notary must follow any agreement made with their employer while at work, but the employer does not have the right to prohibit them from notarizing outside of work hours.

The following states explicitly prohibit Notaries or employers of Notaries from limiting notarial services to customers or clients in their Notary laws:

  • Arizona
  • Hawaii (except for Notaries in government service)
  • Iowa
  • Massachusetts
  • New Mexico

Post employment: Some businesses falsely believe that they retain the commission when an employee leaves. A Notary’s obligation is to the state and public, not the employer, and the journal and seal stamp depart with the Notary.

There are two exceptions: Arizona allows Notaries working under limited circumstances to keep two journals — one for public records and one for nonpublic records protected by the attorney-client privilege or that are confidential pursuant to state or federal law. The journal containing nonpublic records is the property of the employer and, if the Notary leaves that job, the employer may keep the journal containing only nonpublic entries.

Oregon Notaries may sign an agreement with an employer allowing the employer to keep the Notary’s journal if the Notary leaves the employer’s service. The Notary must keep a copy of the agreement. Apart from these exceptions, an employer may not take possession of a Notary’s seal and journal or give them to another employee, even if the employer paid for the tools or the Notary quits or is fired.

It is a good idea for companies to create clear, consistent Notary polices that conform with state law, and make sure managers and Notary employees understand them.

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