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What Every Office Notary Should Know

Office Notaries are responsible for upholding the law when performing notarizations for anyone, including co-workers and supervisors.

(Originally published in the June 2015 issue of The National Notary.)

Updated 11-9-16. “We need you to become a Notary so you can notarize in the office.”

If you've been told this, you aren't alone. Millions of Notaries across the country have heard some variation of this refrain. And while it may seem like just another job requirement, getting your Notary commission means you are taking on additional responsibilities.

You are responsible to your employer and also to the state that commissions you. Sometimes those two duties can come into conflict. But staying aware of a few important points can help ensure your success as a workplace Notary.

We asked Notaries to share their own workplace experiences on social media and contacted experts on workplace behavior, ethics and Notary training who provided the following tips for employee-Notaries in the office.

1. You’re The “Notary expert” In Your Workplace

 

Few employers are familiar with the laws and rules Notaries must follow. As the Notary for your workplace, you can expect people in your office to look to you as the go-to expert on notarization.

Unfortunately, not every state provides the same level of training for Notaries. If your state or employer doesn’t provide training on Notary issues, you need to take the initiative to educate yourself on your state’s Notary laws, said Kelcia Cannon, Executive Point Notary for Ameriprise Financial and an NNA 2012 Notary of the Year Special Honoree, who supervises her company’s training for employees commissioned as Notaries Public.

“The first thing we tell every Notary is that the power is in their hands,” Cannon said. “Notaries are important because they are the ones who have to decide if a request for notarization is appropriate or not.”

Notaries have to take responsibility to educate themselves, Cannon added. “In many states, you just fill out an application and they send you a pamphlet. And they certainly don’t educate employers.”

Be sure you are familiar with any laws in your state that specifically affect employee-Notaries. For example, employers in Florida, Oklahoma and Texas may limit the notarizations their employees perform at work during business hours — such as notarizing only for customers. But Arizona, Iowa, Massachusetts and New Mexico prohibit employers from restricting notarial services to customers and clients.

Sometimes employers also try to tell their employee-Notaries that they can’t perform notarizations when off the clock. But a Notary is a public official and, when not at work, may perform a notarization for any member of the public.

2. Don’t Bend The Rules For Co-Workers Or Bosses
 

In a recent online survey, 30 percent of Notaries said that pressure to ignore or break state laws while notarizing is an important or very important issue they face.

Evelyn Hall, an Executive Assistant for Charter Communications in Dallas, Texas, said she encounters these situations on a daily basis, and many coworkers show up without proper ID. Hall, one of three Notaries in her office, handles personal requests by making an appointment with the coworker for a later time and reminding them to bring their ID. Although it can be intimidating to tell your boss or coworkers you can’t perform the notarial act they want, stand your ground and follow all rules despite added pressures. It is up to you to educate your supervisors about what is and what is not a legal notarization request.

“Over-familiarity with coworkers is a huge issue for Notaries in the workplace,” said Carol Salter, the NNA 2005 Notary of the Year who helped create and currently leads the training and education program for employee-Notaries at Banner Health, a non-profit healthcare provider.

“They feel too comfortable around their coworkers and let required practices go, like not requiring a signer to personally appear before them or not asking for ID,” she said.

Even if you only notarize for a few familiar people in your office, it’s essential not to get lax and ignore the rules of notarization, she said.

Salter recommends keeping reference material on your state’s Notary laws on hand so that signers can be shown exactly why a request has to be refused or a specific requirement like verifying ID needs to be followed.

3. Mishandling Notary Tools In The Office
 

Another common issue in the workplace is the mishandling of Notary tools like seals and journals. Bosses sometimes assume that if they pay for the tools of your office that they belong to the company. They are, in fact, your responsibility.

Your Notary seal is your property. It cannot be used by coworkers or handed over to your boss when you resign your position. Employers sometimes expect — even demand — to keep custody of their staff Notaries’ tools, especially if they paid for them. But your seal belongs to you and cannot be turned over to anyone.

“It is important for employers to understand the Notary's personal liability in the event the Notary's seal is used fraudulently,” said Christine Wissbrun, NNA 2016 Notary of the Year Honoree, who is the go-to Notary in the clerk’s office in Rochester Hills, Michigan.

The same goes for journals, with two exceptions:

Arizona allows Notaries working under limited circumstances to keep two journals. One for public records and the other 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. The employer may keep the journal containing only nonpublic entries, if the Notary leaves the job. In Oregon, Notaries may sign an agreement with their company allowing the employer to keep the journal if the Notary leaves the employer’s service. The Notary must keep a copy of the agreement.

4. Be Proactive

 

Many employers mistakenly assume that paying for an employee’s Notary commission and supplies gives them control over the Notary’s acts.

Some states permit employers to limit the notarizations employees can perform during business hours to customers only. Other states, however, prohibit companies from restricting services to customers and clients. So it’s important to be familiar with the requirements of your state. When it comes to offering your services outside of business hours — including lunch breaks — you may perform any lawful notarization if requested by a member of the public.

It’s up to Notaries to educate their supervisors and coworkers about what is and is not a legal notarization request.

For example, a boss might ask you to ignore identification requirements if you’re notarizing the signature of an important client, but doing so is against the law and could get you, your company and the client in legal hot water.

But it can be intimidating telling your boss you can’t perform a notarial act he wants, and you have to be prepared to stand your ground in the face of some serious pressure.

Stephen M. Paskoff, an attorney, expert on workplace civility and author of the book “Teaching Big Shots to Behave and Other Human Resource Challenges,” says you often can prevent a standoff with your boss by being proactive and explaining ahead of time what a Notary’s duties entail.

“Before there’s a problem, make sure that coworkers and bosses understand what the rules are,” he said. “Explain that you have a legal responsibility to discharge your duties properly, and that you want to let everyone know what that means. Explain what things you can’t do because of the law.”

Paskoff says his own executive assistant, who is a Notary, speaks to him about notarization issues, and that helps ensure all notarial acts in his office are done correctly.

Creating formal office policies for notarization can also be very helpful when dealing with problem requests.

If your business also has a compliance office, general counsel or human resources department, contact them and suggest preparing guidelines that clearly state any notarization requests in the office must follow the law.

In a smaller workplace, you may want to meet directly with your boss or human resources manager to work out appropriate guidelines. It can help to point out that following proper procedure helps protect the company from any potential liability.

Having workplace guidelines for notarizing can go a long way to resolving any issues if you need to tell someone in the office you can’t perform a notarial act.

“Some signers think the Notary is just being difficult by saying ‘No’,” Cannon said. “But there are real reasons Notaries can’t do these things, and having another person back them up can really help — it defuses confrontation.”

She described one incident at her office where a Notary refused to notarize a document, and a supervisor wanted to write up the Notary for insubordination. “We had to intervene and tell them that the Notary was doing what she was supposed to,” Cannon said. “It shocked the hell out of the supervisor.”

Proactively educating your coworkers about the importance of notarization helps you as the Notary and also reduces legal risks in the workplace.

“A lot of your coworkers may think notarization is an afterthought or a necessary evil. They don’t realize the importance of the act,” Salter said. “But if there’s a request for notarization, there’s probably a good reason. It’s not a mere formality or tradition.”

 

 

6 Comments

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Joan A. Baffa

21 Sep 2015

Can I get permission to share this article with other Notaries Public in my office; I do not want to violate any copyright laws, etc.? Please and many thanks - jab

National Notary Association

21 Sep 2015

Hello Joan. We're glad you found the article helpful! You are more than welcome to share links to the article page with your co-workers. If you'd like to publish a copy of the article in an office newsletter or other publication, please email us at publications@nationalnotary.org and we'll be happy to send you a reprint request form.

Mister J

21 Sep 2015

I think it's a good idea for both the employer and the employee to sign an agreement which outlines procedures for notarizing in the office... first of all, to ensure that everything is done legally. It can also answer questions such as whether you can only notarize for your employer's customers and clients during business hours (depending on your state law), whether notary fees from on-the-job notarizations should be remitted to your company or if you get to keep them yourself, and whether you will be required to pay the employer back for some or all of your notary commission in case of termination or resignation (if they paid for it). Basically, any questions that could possibly come up, no matter how inconsequential they may seem, should be agreed upon ahead of time. I think it's also important to acknowledge ethical questions, but in the end, ethics are debatable, while law is not.

Sheila brown

30 Aug 2017

I paid for my own Colorado commission can I charge for my services at work

National Notary Association

05 Sep 2017

Hello. Colorado does not address the issue of charging an additional fee for notarization at your workplace. We would recommend speaking with your manager to find out if your workplace has a policy on this matter.

Sharon

17 Oct 2017

My workplace has no policy in place for charging fees for notarizing at the workplace. My boss paid for the stamp but nothing in regards to me becoming a notary, I went through those steps prior to my employment here. He believes he can have me notarize any document, personal or business, without charge. I've notarized more personal documents than business documents to where I feel taken advantage and would now like to broach the subject with him and HR. I'm not sure if this is a wise step. My commission doesn't renew for another 5 years in which he said he would pay.

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