From NNA: 4 Things To Know About Using Your Notary Seal And Journal At The Office
Updated 12-4-17. When you’re at the office, you always do what your boss tells you to do, right? Not when it comes to demands and involving your Notary seal and journal.
Protecting your seal and journal from potential misuse is an important part of your duties. Sometimes employers assume that these Notary tools are just regular office supplies — particularly if they paid for them, which is often the case. They don’t realize that many states strictly regulate who may have access to a Notary’s seal and journal and how these tools are used.
Here are four important points Notaries and their employers need to keep in mind about proper use of seals and journals in the workplace.
1. The Seal And Journal Belong To The Notary — Usually
Just because an employer paid for your Notary seal and journal doesn’t automatically entitle them to keep those tools if you leave the business. In most cases, you keep your Notary tools. For example, Florida law specifies that a Notary’s seal must not be turned over to an employer upon termination of employment, regardless of who paid for the Notary’s seal. While Texas law does not directly address possession of a Notary’s tools, the state attorney general has issued an opinion that an employer does not own a Notary’s seal or journal, and these tools should remain in the Notary’s possession at all times (Texas Attorney General Opinion GA-0723).
However, a few states have exceptions regarding journals. In Arizona, some Notaries working in professions involving sensitive information are authorized to keep two journals: one for public records and one for nonpublic records protected by attorney-client privilege or state and federal confidentiality laws. A journal containing nonpublic records is the property of the employer, and if the Notary leaves the job, the employer may keep it. The Notary keeps the journal with public records.
Oregon gives Notaries the option of signing an agreement with an employer that allows the employer to keep the journal when the Notary stops working for the employer. An Oregon Notary must keep a copy of this agreement if this option is chosen.
Employers and Notaries should always familiarize themselves with their state laws regarding ownership of a Notary’s tools and always follow those rules.
2. Securely Store The Journal And Seal
A stolen Notary seal can be used for fraud, and a journal contains sensitive private information about signers that, in the wrong hands, could be used for identity theft or other crimes. That’s why your seal and journal always must be stored in a secure location under your sole control when not in use.
Some states require this in their laws. For example, California specifically states that Notaries must always store their journals and seals in a locked, secure area under the Notary’s exclusive control when not in use.
But even in states that don’t specify how they must be stored, the NNA strongly recommends that Notaries store their tools in a secure location such as a safe or locked desk drawer. Leaving your tools in an unsecured area, such as on top of your desk, leaves you vulnerable to someone finding and taking them — which in turn opens you up to a world of legal trouble and potential lawsuits.
3. Only You May Use Your Notary Tools
Remember that your tools aren’t ordinary office supplies like staplers or pencil sharpeners. Your seal and journal belong to you and may only be used by you; they cannot be borrowed or used by a boss or coworkers. If you’re out sick, for example, your boss cannot have another employee use your seal to start stamping documents. Nor can your boss require you to share your Notary tools with coworkers to speed up business operations.
It’s a serious violation of law for anyone other than you to use your tools — and could get you, your coworker and your boss in very serious legal trouble.
4. Say No To Improper Requests
Supervisors and colleagues often aren’t familiar with the strict rules Notaries are required to follow. If a boss or coworker wants to borrow your tools, asks you to let someone else use them or makes any other requests you know are illegal, you must refuse.
It’s helpful to keep your state Notary laws handy so you can show why you have to say no. Refusing illegal requests and following proper practices not only protects your commission, it protects both you and your workplace from potential lawsuits.
David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.