More broadly, the staffing shortages have put a new spotlight on a potential vaccine-or-testing mandate from the Biden administration, which major retailers have been resisting. The fear of losing workers appears to be looming large, especially now.

While the retail industry initially cited the holiday season rush for its resistance to such rules, it has more recently pointed to the burden of testing unvaccinated workers. After oral arguments in the case on Friday, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority expressed skepticism about whether the Biden administration had legal authority to mandate that large employers require workers to be vaccinated.

The National Retail Federation, a major industry lobbying group, said in a statement last week that it “continues to believe that OSHA exceeded its authority in promulgating its vaccine mandate.” The group estimated that the order would require 20 million tests a week nationally, based on external data on unvaccinated workers, and that “such testing capacity currently does not exist.”

When the top managers at Mr. Waugh’s Stop & Shop store began asking employees whether they were vaccinated in preparation for the federal vaccine mandates that could soon take effect, he said, a large number expressed concern to him about being asked to disclose that information.

“It was concerning to see that so many people were distressed,” he said, though all of the employees complied.

Ms. Luick of Macy’s near Seattle said that she worked with several vocal opponents of the Covid-19 vaccines and that she anticipated that at least some of her colleagues would resign if they were asked to provide vaccination status or proof of negative tests.

Still, Macy’s was among major employers that started asking employees for their vaccination status last week ahead of the Supreme Court hearing on Friday and said it might require proof of negative tests beginning on Feb. 16.

“Our primary focus at this stage is preparing our members for an eventual mandate to ensure they have the information and tools they need to manage their work force and meet the needs of their customers,” said Brian Dodge, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which includes companies like Macy’s, Target, Home Depot, Gap and Walmart.

As seasonal Covid-19 surges become the norm, unions and companies are looking for consistent policies. Jim Araby, director of strategic campaigns for the food and commercial workers union in Northern California, said the retail industry needed to put in place more sustainable supports for workers who got ill.

For example, he said, a trust fund jointly administered by the union and several employers could no longer offer Covid-related sick days for union members.

“We have to start treating this as endemic,” Mr. Araby said. “And figuring out what are the structural issues we have to put forward to deal with this.”

Kellen Browning contributed reporting.

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Bosses Have a New Headache: How Long Should Sick Workers Isolate?

Barbara Sibley’s four New York restaurants had already weathered the city’s initial Covid-19 wave, the prevaccine surge last winter and this summer’s Delta spike when last weekend it finally happened: Fearing an outbreak and struggling with staffing after one of her workers got sick with Covid, she temporarily shut down one of her locations.

That was only the start of Ms. Sibley’s worries. She also had to weigh how long the employee, who was fully vaccinated, should isolate before returning to the job. And the messaging from public health experts was not clear-cut.

In the early days of the pandemic the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that most people who tested positive for the coronavirus isolate for 14 days. It later reduced its recommended isolation period to 10 days. But these policies were based on data from unvaccinated individuals and were implemented before the widespread availability of rapid tests. An increasing number of health and policy professionals now suggest that vaccinated people can end their isolation after five to seven days, so long as they are not symptomatic and they test negative.

On Thursday, the C.D.C. reduced, in some circumstances, the number of days it recommends that health care workers who test positive for the coronavirus isolate themselves, but it did not address other businesses.

said on Friday that fully vaccinated critical workers could return to work five days after testing positive, so long as they have no symptoms or their symptoms are resolving and they have had no fever for 72 hours. Those workers will also have to wear a mask, she said.

Omicron has intensified staffing shortages across industries, and the spike in cases has disrupted travel during the holidays, stranding thousands of customers and underscoring the economic toll of employees needing to isolate. Already, some economists are warning about the potential impact that shutdowns can have on consumer spending.

Delta Air Lines asked the C.D.C. on Tuesday to cut isolation time to five days for fully vaccinated people, warning that the current 10-day period may “significantly impact” operations. It was followed by JetBlue and Airlines for America, a trade group that represents eight airlines.

eliminated weekly testing for vaccinated players who are asymptomatic, with its chief medical officer saying the pandemic had reached a stage in which it’s unnecessary for vaccinated players to sit out if they feel healthy.

canceled performances through Christmas. CityMD, the privately owned urgent care clinic, temporarily shut 19 sites in New York and New Jersey because of staffing shortages. At least a dozen New York restaurants have temporarily closed in response to positive tests.

“I think lots of companies are looking at a lot of disruption in the next month and trying to put in policies right now, because they know their employees are going to get infected in very high numbers,” said Dr. Jha.

The United States might take direction from policy shifts abroad. Britain said on Wednesday that it was reducing to seven from 10 the days that people must isolate after showing Covid-19 symptoms.

After the British government lifted nearly all its pandemic restrictions in July, hundreds of thousands of workers were pinged by the National Health Service’s track-and-trace app and told to isolate because they had been exposed to the coronavirus. Businesses complained of being short-staffed, and economists said the “pingdemic” may have slowed economic growth in July.

In the United States, new tools to help manage through the pandemic are on the way.

The Food and Drug Administration this week authorized two pills to treat Covid, from Pfizer and Merck. Those treatments have been shown to stave off severe disease and have potential to reduce transmission of the virus, though supply of both pills, especially Pfizer’s, will be limited in the next few months.

President Biden said on Tuesday that he planned to invoke the Defense Production Act to buy and give away 500 million rapid antigen tests, a crucial tool in detecting transmissibility, though those tests will not be available for weeks or longer.

If a combination of the antiviral pills and rapid tests is able to get individuals back to work faster, “that’s a big economic point,” said Dr. Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research.

Molly Moon Neitzel, who owns an ice cream business in Seattle with just over 100 employees, said she had kept guidelines for isolation conservative.

“I’m on the side of protecting people over getting them back to work right now,” she said, adding that if it were summer and her business were busier, she might consider a shorter isolation period. “It’s the slowest time of the year for an ice cream company, so that is in my favor.”

Some public health experts worry that if the C.D.C. shortens its guidelines on isolating, employers could pressure workers to get back before they’re fully recovered.

“What I don’t want to see happen is for this to be used as an excuse to force people to come back while they are unwell,” Dr. Ranney of Brown said.

And even with clearer guidelines, putting policies in place can be tricky. While some experts suggest different isolation rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated employees, some companies do not yet have a system for tracking which of their workers have gotten a vaccine. The question of whether the C.D.C. will change its definition of fully vaccinated to include booster shots adds another layer of complexity.

It’s not just sick employees who may have to stay home: Companies are also grappling with whether vaccinated workers should quarantine after exposure to someone with Covid-19, which C.D.C. guidelines do not require.

“It becomes a challenge for employers to choose between providing a safer environment and keeping staff intact, or going with the C.D.C. guidance,” said Karen Burke, an adviser at the Society for Human Resource Management.

But almost two years into the pandemic, that’s the position that employers continue to find themselves in, amid an ever-flowing cascade of new data, guidelines and considerations.

“Every moment, you’re making life or death decisions,” Ms. Sibley said. “That’s not what we signed up for.”

Rebecca Robbins contributed reporting.

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Amazon Reaches Labor Deal, Giving Workers More Power to Organize

SEATTLE — Amazon, which faces mounting scrutiny over worker rights, agreed to let its warehouse employees more easily organize in the workplace as part of a nationwide settlement with the National Labor Relations Board this month.

Under the settlement, made final on Wednesday, Amazon said it would email past and current warehouse workers — likely more than one million people — with notifications of their rights and give them greater flexibility to organize in its buildings. The agreement also makes it easier and faster for the N.L.R.B., which investigates claims of unfair labor practices, to sue Amazon if it believes the company violated the terms.

Amazon has previously settled individual cases with the labor agency, but the new settlement’s national scope and its concessions to organizing go further than any previous agreement.

Because of Amazon’s sheer size — more than 750,000 people work in its operations in the United States alone — the agency said the settlement would reach one of the largest groups of workers in its history. The tech giant also agreed to terms that would let the N.L.R.B. bypass an administrative hearing process, a lengthy and cumbersome undertaking, if the agency found that the company had not abided by the settlement.

on a hiring frenzy in the pandemic and is the nation’s second-largest private employer after Walmart, has faced increased labor pressure as its work force has soared to nearly 1.5 million globally. The company has become a leading example of a rising tide of worker organizing as the pandemic reshapes what employees expect from their employers.

This year, Amazon has grappled with organizing efforts at warehouses in Alabama and New York, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters formally committed to support organizing at the company. Other companies, such as Starbucks, Kellogg and Deere & Company, have faced rising union activity as well.

Compounding the problem, Amazon is struggling to find enough employees to satiate its growth. The company was built on a model of high-turnover employment, which has now crashed into a phenomenon known as the Great Resignation, with workers in many industries quitting their jobs in search of a better deal for themselves.

it would spend $4 billion to deal with labor shortages this quarter alone.

“This settlement agreement provides a crucial commitment from Amazon to millions of its workers across the United States that it will not interfere with their right to act collectively to improve their workplace by forming a union or taking other collective action,” Jennifer Abruzzo, the N.L.R.B.’s new general counsel appointed by President Biden, said in a statement on Thursday.

Amazon declined to comment. The company has said it supports workers’ rights to organize but believes employees are better served without a union.

Amazon and the labor agency have been in growing contact, and at times conflict. More than 75 cases alleging unfair labor practices have been brought against Amazon since the start of the pandemic, according to the N.L.R.B.’s database. Ms. Abruzzo has also issued several memos directing the agency’s staff to enforce labor laws against employers more aggressively.

threw out the results of a failed, prominent union election at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, saying the company had inappropriately interfered with the voting. The agency ordered another election. Amazon has not appealed the finding, though it can still do so.

Other employers, from beauty salons to retirement communities, have made nationwide settlements with the N.L.R.B. in the past when changing policies.

well established, said Matthew Bodie, a former lawyer for the N.L.R.B. who teaches labor law at Saint Louis University.

“The fact that you can hang around and chat — that is prime, protected concerted activity periods, and the board has always been very protective of that,” he said.

Mr. Miin, who is part of an organizing group called Amazonians United Chicagoland, and other workers in Chicago reached a settlement with Amazon in the spring over the 15-minute rule at a different delivery station where they had worked last year. Two corporate employees also settled privately with Amazon in an agreement that included a nationwide notification of worker rights, but the agency does not police it.

Mr. Goldstein said he was “impressed” that the N.L.R.B. had pressed Amazon to agree to terms that would let the agency bypass its administrative hearing process, which happens before a judge and in which parties prepare arguments and present evidence, if it found the company had broken the agreement’s terms.

“They can get a court order to make Amazon obey federal labor law,” he said.

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Whiplash on U.S. Vaccine Mandate Leaves Employers ‘Totally Confused’

“You can’t really mandate booster shots yet,” he said. “It hasn’t been signed off on by any federal agency.”

JPMorgan Chase, whose decision to require vaccines is complicated by its sprawling retail operations across the United States, declined to comment on how the court’s most recent decision, along with the recent spike in cases, affects any plans to mandate vaccines. But the bank on Friday told its American employees who do not work in bank branches that “each group should assess who needs to come into the office, work priorities and who should revert to working from home on a more regular basis over the next few weeks.”

Walmart, which has mandated vaccines for mainly its corporate staff, also did not have any comment on broadening that requirement. Only 66 percent of its roughly 1.6 million U.S. employees are vaccinated, according to data compiled by the Shift Project at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

Legal questions about the OSHA rule are far from resolved. Immediately after the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled on Friday, several of the many plaintiffs who have challenged that rule asked the Supreme Court to intervene as part of its “emergency” docket. Appeals from the Sixth Circuit are assigned for review by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who under Supreme Court rules could in theory make a decision on his own but is more likely to refer the matter to the full Supreme Court. With the Labor Department now delaying full enforcement of its rule until Feb. 9, the justices have several weeks to ask for abbreviated briefings if they want them.

“Things are going back and forth literally in a matter of hours,” said Sydney Heimbrock, an adviser on industry and government issues at Qualtrics, who works with hundreds of clients on using the company’s software to track employee vaccination status. “The confusion stems from the on-again-off-again, is it a rule or isn’t it a rule? The litigations, appeals, reversing decisions and making decisions.”

Even the spread of Omicron hasn’t changed the position of some of the vaccine rule’s most ardent opponents. The National Retail Federation, one of the trade groups challenging the administration’s vaccine rule, is among those that have filed a petition with the Supreme Court. The group is in favor of vaccinations but has pushed for companies to get more time to carry out mandates. Still, even as it fights the administration’s rule, the federation is also holding twice weekly calls with members to compare notes on how to carry it out.

“There’s no question that the increased number of variants like Omicron certainly don’t make it less dangerous,” said Stephanie Martz, the group’s chief administrative officer and general counsel. “The legitimate, remaining question is, is this inherent to the workplace?”

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Biden’s Covid Vaccine Mandate Reinstated for Large Businesses

But Judge Joan L. Larsen, a Trump appointee, dissented, arguing — as had the Fifth Circuit panel before her — that the agency had exceeded its legal authority.

“The mandate is aimed directly at protecting the unvaccinated from their own choices,” Judge Larsen wrote. “Vaccines are freely available, and unvaccinated people may choose to protect themselves at any time. And because the secretary likely lacks congressional authority to force them to protect themselves, the remaining stay factors cannot tip the balance.”

All of the judges on the Fifth Circuit panel that had blocked the rule were conservative Republican appointees.

Challengers to the decision could appeal directly to the Supreme Court, which is controlled by a conservative bloc of six Republican appointees. (The Supreme Court this month refused to block New York’s requirement that health care workers be vaccinated against the coronavirus even when they cite religious objections.)

Challengers could also appeal to the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Of its 16 sitting judges, five were appointed by Democrats and 11 were appointed by Republicans. (However, one of the Republican appointees, Judge Helene N. White, was originally a nominee of a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, before being renominated by a Republican one, George W. Bush, as part of a political deal.)

Conditions on the ground are rapidly changing, with new cases surging, apparently because of the more-infectious Omicron variant. The Justice Department last month warned that keeping the mandate from coming into effect “would likely cost dozens or even hundreds of lives per day, in addition to large numbers of hospitalizations, other serious health effects and tremendous costs.”

The OSHA rule, alongside a separate requirement for federal contractors, has helped drive a number of large companies to announce a form of vaccine mandate, including Procter & Gamble, IBM and American Airlines. Others, like Tyson Foods and Google, introduced mandates on their own, in the face of the rising risk of the Delta variant.

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The End of a Return-to-Office Date

“We decided as a leadership team, ‘what was magical about these dates?’” Ms. Anas said. “It was extremely liberating saying, ‘We’re going to see how this nets out and we’re not solving for a date.’”

She is unsettled by the possibility that they will still be working from home in March, two years since they first packed up their desks. But with coronavirus infections spiking, Ms. Anas is relieved that the company doesn’t have to weigh the merits of an early 2022 return, leaving workers to wait worriedly for updates.

“If we had kicked the can to January, they’d be fixated on that,” she said. “We keep focused on the work. This is just a distraction.”

For many organizational leaders, addressing the anxieties of their work force has been the only constant in the R.T.O. process.

With the spread of Delta, Jessica Saranich, who runs U.S. operations at the productivity software company Monday.com, got a flurry of notes from colleagues: Will we really go back to the office in August? Last month brought the news of Omicron, with a fresh set of questions: What does this mean for the January off-site gathering, with its promise of free food, partying and a Miami D.J.? Ms. Saranich’s team has delayed its return to office date three times, which has left some employees pleading for more permanence in the company’s policies.

“Sometimes our team will say please just make a decision, pick something, make us come back to the office or make us be remote,” Ms. Saranich said. “But it’s not something that we want to rush. To be able to lean into the discomfort and say we don’t know is a great gift that we can give to our team.”

Still, plenty of organizations aiming for an early 2022 return haven’t budged.

Express Employment Professionals, a staffing provider in Oklahoma City, aims to bring half of its 300 workers back to their newly remodeled headquarters on Jan. 15. The company had originally reopened its office in July in a phased re-entry plan, which was temporarily scaled back in September. Keith McFall, chief operating officer, feels that clear R.T.O. dates serve as a force of stability for workers navigating months of tumult.

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How Nursing Homes’ Worst Offenses Are Hidden From the Public

The public never found out that inspectors cited another New Jersey nursing home, Rehab at River’s Edge, for failing to protect a fragile resident who fell seven separate times, at one point fracturing her foot.

And the public never found out that a resident at the Golden Living Center nursing home in Morgantown, W.Va., crashed to the ground and died after staff mistakenly removed the safety rails from his bed.

In all three of those cases, the state inspectors’ findings were upheld by a federal judge.

Mr. Blum, the C.M.S. official, didn’t say why such citations had never appeared on Care Compare. He said the agency was working to fix the problem. (The three homes declined to comment or didn’t respond to requests for comment. Golden Living is under new management.)

Dr. David Gifford, the chief medical officer of the American Health Care Association, which represents the nursing home industry, said the group’s members believed the appeals process should be faster and more transparent. He said Medicare should not post the results of inspections that are in dispute.

On paper, Hilltop Rehabilitation, a sprawling ranch-style nursing home in Weatherford, Texas, seems like a place where little ever goes wrong. On Medicare’s rating website, the facility has won the highest scores on its health inspections for four years straight, not incurring a single serious infraction.

What’s missing from that picture, though, is what happened to Alan Hart’s mother, Laverne.

In 2014, he placed the 87-year-old retired children’s book author, who had dementia, at Hilltop because he was having trouble caring for her on his own.

Mr. Hart said it broke his heart to move her, but he thought she would be in good hands at the five-star nursing home, which planned to keep her on a supervised, locked floor.

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How Amazon Mishandled Paying Dozens of Workers on Leave

In internal correspondence, company administrators warned of “inadequate service levels,” “deficient processes” and systems that are “prone to delay and error.”

The extent of the problem puts in stark relief how Amazon’s workers routinely took a back seat to customers during the company’s meteoric rise to retail dominance. Amazon built cutting-edge package processing facilities to cater to shoppers’ appetite for fast delivery, far outpacing competitors. But the business did not devote enough resources and attention to how it served employees, according to many longtime workers.

“A lot of times, because we’ve optimized for the customer experience, we’ve been focused on that,” Bethany Reyes, who was recently put in charge of fixing the leave system, said in an interview. She stressed that the company was working hard to rebalance those priorities.

The company’s treatment of its huge work force — now more than 1.3 million people and expanding rapidly — faces mounting scrutiny. Labor activists and some lawmakers say that the company does not adequately protect the safety of warehouse employees, and that it unfairly punishes internal critics. This year, workers in Alabama, upset about the company’s minute-by-minute monitoring of their productivity, organized a serious, though ultimately failed, unionization threat against the company.

In June, a Times investigation detailed how badly the leave process jammed during the pandemic, finding that it was one of many employment lapses during the company’s greatest moment of financial success. Since then, Amazon has emphasized a pledge to become “Earth’s best employer.” Andy Jassy, who replaced Mr. Bezos as chief executive in July, recently singled out the leave system as a place where it can demonstrate its commitment to improve. The process “didn’t work the way we wanted it to work,” he said at an event this month.

In response to the more recent findings on the troubles in its leave program, Amazon elaborated on its efforts to fix the system’s “pain points” and “pay issues,” as Ms. Reyes put it in the interview. She called the erroneous terminations “the most dire issue that you could have.” The company is hiring hundreds of employees, streamlining and connecting systems, clarifying its communications and training human resources staff members to be more empathetic.

But many issues persist, causing breakdowns that have proved devastating. This spring, a Tennessee warehouse worker abruptly stopped receiving disability payments, leaving his family struggling to pay for food, transportation or medical care.

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Tesla to Move Headquarters to Texas from California

Tesla will move its headquarters from California to Austin, Texas, where it is building a new factory, its chief executive, Elon Musk, said at the company’s annual shareholder meeting on Thursday.

The move makes good on a threat that Mr. Musk issued more than a year ago when he was frustrated by local coronavirus lockdown orders that forced Tesla to pause production at its factory in Fremont, Calif. Mr. Musk on Thursday said the company would keep that factory and expand production there.

“There’s a limit to how big you can scale in the Bay Area,” he said, adding that high housing prices there translate to long commutes for some employees. The Texas factory, which is near Austin and will manufacture Tesla’s Cybertruck, is minutes from downtown and from an airport, he said.

Mr. Musk was an outspoken early critic of pandemic restrictions, calling them “fascist” and predicting in March 2020 that there would be almost no new cases of virus infections by the end of April. In December, he said he had moved himself to Texas to be near the new factory. His other company, SpaceX, launches rockets from the state.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise said in December that it was moving to the Houston area, and Charles Schwab has moved to a suburb of Dallas and Fort Worth.

Mr. Musk’s decision will surely add fuel to a ceaseless debate between officials and executives in Texas and California about which state is a better place to do business. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, and his predecessors, have courted California companies to move to the state, arguing that it has lower taxes and lower housing and other costs. California has long played up the technological prowess of Silicon Valley and its universities as the reason many entrepreneurs start and build their companies there, a list that includes Tesla, Facebook, Google and Apple.

Texas has become more attractive to workers in recent years, too, with a generally lower cost of living. Austin, a thriving liberal city that is home to the University of Texas, in particular has boomed. Many technology companies, some based in California, have built huge campuses there. As a result, though, housing costs and traffic have increased significantly, leaving the city with the kinds of problems local governments in California have been dealing with for years.

Mr. Musk’s announcement is likely to take on political overtones, too.

Last month, Mr. Abbott invoked Mr. Musk in explaining why a new Texas law that greatly restricts abortion would not hurt the state economically. “Elon consistently tells me that he likes the social policies in the state of Texas,” the governor told CNBC.

he said on Twitter. “That said, I would prefer to stay out of politics.”

On Thursday evening, a Twitter post by Governor Abbott welcomed the news, saying “the Lone Star State is the land of opportunity and innovation.”

A spokeswoman for Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, Erin Mellon, did not directly comment on Tesla’s move but said in a statement that the state was “home to the biggest ideas and companies on the planet” and that California would “stand up for workers, public health and a woman’s right to choose.”

Mr. Musk revealed the company’s move after shareholders voted on a series of proposals aimed at improving Tesla’s corporate governance. According to preliminary results, investors sided with Tesla on all but two measures that it opposed: one that would force its board members to run for re-election annually, down from every three years, and another that would require the company to publish more detail about efforts to diversify its work force.

In a report last year, Tesla revealed that its U.S. leadership was 59 percent white and 83 percent male. The company’s overall U.S. work force is 79 percent male and 34 percent white.

The vote comes days after a federal jury ordered Tesla to pay $137 million to Owen Diaz, a former contractor who said he faced repeated racist harassment while working at the Fremont factory, in 2015 and 2016. Tesla faces similar accusations from dozens of others in a class-action lawsuit.

The diversity report proposal, from Calvert Research and Management, a firm that focuses on responsible investment and is owned by Morgan Stanley, requires Tesla to publish annual reports about its diversity and inclusion efforts, something many other large companies already do.

Investors also re-elected to the board Kimbal Musk, Mr. Musk’s brother, and James Murdoch, the former 21st Century Fox executive, despite a recommendation to vote against them by ISS, a firm that advises investors on shareholder votes and corporate governance.

Proposals calling for additional reporting both on Tesla’s practice of using mandatory arbitration to resolve employee disputes and on the human rights impact of how it sources materials failed, according to early results. A final tally will be announced in the coming days, the company said.

Ivan Penn contributed reporting.

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100 Isn’t a Magic Number, So Why Is It Part of the Vaccine Mandate?

But if you want a small-business loan? There, the government’s definition is far more expansive. The Small Business Administration, which orchestrated the popular Paycheck Protection Program, generally considers any company with fewer than 500 employees a “small” one. Unless you’re in one of dozens of industries with exceptions, which are detailed in a 49-page document that can seem almost whimsical in its divisions. A company that mines gold ore counts as small if it has up to 1,500 employees, but the limit falls to 750 for iron miners and just 250 for those that extract silver.

One thing about tiny companies is clear: They vastly outnumber their bigger brethren. The government estimates that there are nearly 32 million small businesses in America. Most have no employees beyond the owner. Their ranks include practitioners of nearly every profession — solo lawyers and accountants, Uber drivers, tutors, gig-working delivery cyclists, artists and writers and musicians and millions of salaried workers with side hustles.

Weed out those businesses and you’re left with six million employer firms, each with a payroll ranging from a handful of people to a few hundred. Only 20,000 companies in the country, according to data from the Census Bureau, are truly large businesses, with 500 or more employees.

To entrepreneurs in that squishy middle, the line between being a little business and a big one can feel pretty fuzzy. Twenty years ago, Franz Spielvogel joined Laughing Planet, which was at the time a single-location fast-casual cafe in Portland, Ore. It was a hit, so he and his business partner opened another Laughing Planet. Then another. Today, Mr. Spielvogel runs 15 locations in three states, with 224 workers.

Mr. Spielvogel said his mini-chain feels like a collection of neighborhood spots, which he likes. “We’re not Sweetgreen,” he said. “We’re not saying, ‘Let’s do 100 stores in the next six months.’ That’s not our mission.”

Being a midsize company can have some pain points, like having a limited legal and human resources infrastructure to handle the thicket of regulations that come with employing hundreds of people. But Mr. Spielvogel enjoys running a company small enough that it is able to preserve that first shop’s ethos and corporate culture. He’s unfazed — and honestly somewhat relieved, he said — by the new vaccination-or-testing mandate. He has been trying to coax his staff to get vaccinated by offering paid time off for each shot, and he hopes a mandate will convince his last few holdouts.

Even some teeny companies are eager to embrace it. Aaron Seyedian, the founder of Well-Paid Maids in Washington, said he wished the mandate extended to companies like his, which has 17 people.

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